UPJ President Roger Mendelson shared his My Good News column in the UPJ's Weekly News & Drash dated 13/14 September 2019. The Jewish Community of Japan morphed out of the old Jewish Community Centre. It was originally a social centre for the fledgling Jewish community from the early ‘50s. Most of the founders were from Harbin and Shanghai in China, and sought a new home after the communists took over there. (Pictured, from left: Shelley Kunin, Sue Mendelson, Marsha and Jerry Rosenberg, Rabbi David Kunin and Roger Mendelson).
Traditionally the community comprised a broad spectrum of observance. The community is very active socially as well as religiously.
Their rabbi is David Kunin and he has encouraged them to be outward looking. Rabbi Kunin is chair of our Moetzah (Council of Progressive Rabbis) and has been engaged in developing much greater connection amongst the Asian communities.
Sue and I were in Tokyo to celebrate Shabbat with them. On Erev Shabbat, I was delighted to present a Vatik Award to Jerry Rosenberg and a Ner Tamid Award to his wife, Marsha.
They are the first awards presented to members of JCJ and they are certainly well deserved and well overdue. They have both been very active volunteers for over 40 years and continue to be communal rocks.
For struggling congregational treasurers, take heart from their experience. There are grounds for hope. Keep praying. An anonymous donor gave them $US6m several years ago and this enabled them to build a new state-of-the-art centre and synagogue. They even have a wonderful 90-year-old Japanese lady who comes in to bake their challah.
They engaged an award-winning architect and the result is quite spectacular. They even have a mikvah. There is a restaurant-standard kitchen and they regularly dine together.
An interesting facet of the community is the high level of mixed marriages and the couples have a strong desire to pass Judaism to their children. This required JCJ to develop a quality cheder. Something others could learn from is their policy of enticing the post-bar mitzvah kids to become teachers to those following them. The retention rate exceeds 80 per cent.
The world is clearly tilting toward Asia. As economic development builds further momentum, there will be more Jews living there; your children or grandchildren may end up there.
Our Movement comprises established rabbi-led communities in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. There are chaverot ( friendship groups) in places as diverse as Rangoon, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and functioning communities in Shanghai, Indonesia, Bali and Bangkok.
Asian communities are very different from communities in Australia and NZ. They are mostly ex-pat, usually American, lack a Zeide and Bubbe generation, need to be self-sufficient and can’t simply absorb Judaism from their surroundings, comprise people from diverse backgrounds and from different religious experiences.
Visiting JCJ was a wonderful and worthwhile experience. They would love you to visit them if you are going to Tokyo.