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November 21, 2003     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 16 By Steven L. Herman spent 17 years in Japan start- ing in 1953. TOKYO (JTA)--In the half- The small but diverse con- century since it was founded, gregation that makes up the the Jewish Community Cen- center's community was able ter ofJapan has always prided to give Robinson--born itself on being able to accom- Emmanuel Goldenberg--his modate any request for a min- minyan, as it did for other vis- yan, even at short notice, iting notables on short notice, Community members say says Valier, who now lives in that many visiting Jews, who London. may not be religiously obser- Flexibilityand tolerance-has vant at home, suddenly seem been a theme at the center, toyearn for a connection with known simply as the Jewish their brethren in an exotic Community of Japan, for 50 land. years. The actor Edward G. "We do not describe our- Robinson once called the cen- selves as Conservative or Re- ter saying, "I need a minyan," form or Orthodox, but simply recalls Bernard Valier, who as Jewish," says the 239@fastsigns.com 407.898.5770 IJ IAcated in the Albertson' laza ] PHOTO6RAPHY ~ke Mary, Flodd~/ / --"lik I I In-, I www . I'IANDI=:PHO'rOm Ii N '" CERr HANDYMAN SERVICE Handy man and General Maintenance Air Conditioning Electrical Plumbing Carpentry Formerly handled maintenance at JCC References available STEVE'S SERVICES Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8960 A Full Service Florist www,allinbloom.com Ooe " 12 ffears in ~7~ustbess -- SAME DAY DELIVERY -- 679-5144 Toll flee 1-800-827-1097 or FAX: 679-6787 10069 University Blvd Orlando Ft. 32817 (Dean & Unlverily) 740-0018 281-7666 Toll free 1-888-548-7484 Toll free 1-800-866-9554 or FAX: 740-0096 or FAX: 281-8005 5689 Red Bug Lake Rd 711 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando Winler Springs, FL 32708 Ft. 32828 (Waterford Lakes) All major credit cards accepted. Wire service to ALL pans of the country, Custom Windows and Doors Will your windows weather the next storm? Energy efficient replacement windows Gutters and down spouts Screen enclosures Siding Soffit and facia S. Klein Contractors 2478 Tahoe Circle Financing T Available Steve Klein Winter Park, FL 32792 407-657-0158 community's president, Daniel Turk. "We have ser- vices in different formats, lan- guages and levels of participa- tion." The overwhelming ma- jority of Tokyo's Jews prefer services that do not make ritu- alistic distinction between men and women. A smaller group of the center's mem- bers hold Orthodox services. "We had to find a way to live together, pray together and fight together," says Rabbi Marvin Tokayer of New York, who was the popular spiritual leader of the community for 10 years. The first known minyan in Japan took place in 1889 and the first synagogue was estab- lished in the 1890s in Nagasaki. Prior to World War II, the majority of Jews in Japan lived in Kobe and Yokohama. The Jewish cemetery in Yokohama has tombstones dating back to 1869. The Jewish Community of Japan, in Tokyo, was estab- lished March 21, 1953, founded by merchant Jews primarily from the Chinese cities of Harbin and Shanghai. "The criteria to be a mem- ber was to be able to speak Russian, play poker and drink vodka," remembers former community president Ernie Salomon, a Tokyo resident since 1950. Shortly after its inception, the community center was raided by police during a "Monte Carlo Night." Police believed that the Jews were reopening an illegal casino, which had been shuttered not long before in another part of the neighborhood. Two board members were among those arrested. The founder of Tokyo's or- ganized Jewish community was a Russian textile business- man, Anatole Ponve, who es- tablished the Kobe synagogue in 1937. During the early 1940s, Ponve was among those who mobilized a massive effort to take care of Jewish refugees from Europe. After the war, Ponve, the community's first president, personally guaranteed a loan from Chase Manhattan Bank for the purchase of the land for the community center from a Japanese family in the upscale Hiroo District. The Jewish Community of Japan, which serves 150 fungi- lies, is foremost a religious institution with a synagogue 'known as Beth David, named for the father of one the community's early leaders and benefactors, Shoul Eisenberg, who later became a leading industrialist in Israel. In the early years, the din- ing room at the center was not kosher--beef stroganoffwas a favorite dish--but that changed when a new rabbi threatened to quit if the kitchen was not made kosher. In recent decades, the center's kitchen has been under rab- binical supervision. Founding members, while not very religiously observant, were enthusiastic about fund- ing their fledgling c mmunity" At the initial fund-raiser in 1953, when the community ran out of items to auction, an empty box was successfully put up for bid. That charitable spirit was evident earlier this month at the community center's 50th anniversary gala celebration. A bottle of "slightly used" HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 21, 2003 i photo courtesy of Jewish Community of Japan Children attend a Purlm party at the Jewish Community Japan in 2002. mineral water was auctioned That lack of familiarity was The current rabbi, Henri off for about $140 and then evident during a comedy rou- Noach, is still learning Japa- graciously donated back to the tine at the gala evening, which nese, but he is fluent in French, synagogue. The winner of a featured a "Jewish acolyte" Hebrew and English--which $2,200 cash lottery also do- trekking to the top ofa moun- helps him serve the center's nated the money back to the Lain to seek enlightenment families, who are diverse in community, from a "Buddhist monk." A nationalities and native lan- The money raised by the Japanese aerospace business guages. gala, held Nov. I at the Tokyo executive, befuddled by the "The fact that one rabbi haS American Club, likely will skit, turned to his Jewish host to serve the needs of people mean the community center after watching the faux monk whoare so different makes the will be in the black for the first and asked seriously, "Is that job challenging and exhilarat time in decades. Jesus Christ?" The lack of en- ing," Noach says. "Our endowment has di- counters between Jews and Noach, aConservativerabbi, minishedsignificantlyover the Japanese also has meant that also is chargedwith determin" years," Turk says. "Recently, there has been little of the ing the suitability of conver- wehavebeenfocusingconsid- hostility experienced by Jews sion candidates. erable attention and effort try- in many other lands. He says Japanese "have less ing to manage our revenue During World War II, the preconceptions about Juda- and expenses to a point where Japanese were encouraged by ism, because it's not part of ournormaloperationsareself- their Nazi allies to extermi- their historical and cultural sufficient." The celebration nate Jews under their control orbit. In this sense, they maY drewabout200people, includ- especiallythoseinShanghai-- be less resistant to absorbing ing current or former corn- but the Japanese had no incli- core concepts in Judaism." munity members from across nation to comply. Japanese conversion candi" Japan, Europe and North "In fact, Jews who made it dates appear to want to corn- America. A number of Japa- to Japan were saved as a re- mit themselves to an active nese guests also attended, suit," Turk says. Jewish life for the sake of their assen The Jewish Community of JewsinJapanarerfforelikely spouses and are prepared to bylsr, Japan actually has a number to experience philo-Semitism, raise their children as Jews, ini of Japanese members, includ- withmagazinearticlesexpress- Noach says, noting that those SChed ing spouses of Jewish mem- ingadmiration for Jewish tal- with Israeli spouses are try, v bers, some ofwhom have con- ent, intelligence and success. "highly motivated," with from i verted to Judaism. There also Prince Mikasa, the young- many planning to move to tion 1: are a small number of Japa- est brother of the late Em- Israel. Comp nese who have converted for peror Hirohito, is among the Noach says he frequently i! ! needy reasonsunrelatedtomarriage, notable friends of the Jews in asked what people thougt !,On Japan never has had a sig- Japan. when he told them he was,naarcl nificant indigenous Jewish "He reads Hebrew well and, moving from Belgium toJ '| Soldie population, and there is little in his younger days, not infre- pan to take over the pulpit iP,hands history ofnotebetweenJapan quently visited our center, Tokyo. .] vendo and the Jewish people, such as to participate in the "My family thought that l| n arke "It is probably fair to say Passover Seder," Turk says. was a mishugunah," Noadl! nlUsic thateveneducatedpeoplehave AnumberofotherJapanese says. "My friends and co!" blue onlyafragmentaryandsuper- members also speak fluent leagues, however, generallYl bObbe ficial knowledge of the Jewish Hebrew and are synagogue thought it was cool. MaYI people," Turk says. regulars, they're both right." nitie tion q ish fe Un rael, Coral Ilyl . CHI photo courtesy Prince Mikasa, brother of then-Emperor Hirohito, attends a seder at the Jewish nity Japan in 1956.