There is a certain magic that happens with this project. One minute, I am explaining this idea I have about conceptualizing the future of Asian-Jewish crossover, the next minute, I get an invitation to the private residence of the Consul-General of Japan in New York! The event was a private dinner and discussion hosted by the Global Round Table, a group of Jewish professionals whose goal is to put a human face on global affairs with round table discussions and meetings such as this.
The amazing Harriet Mandel started this group connecting people from all walks of life. As she has told me, often times people who work in the United Nations in New York will not get to know any real New Yorkers, and can mean, they have never met a Jew in their life! The events from this group have been really great for showing people from other parts of the world what a diverse array of Jewish professionals can look like, and their concerns about global issues.
She introduced our evening’s discussion by saying, “Jewish sages say, ‘Who is wise? One who learns from all.'”
The talk by Ambassador Sumio Kusaka, Consul-General of Japan in New York, discussed the history of Japan-Jewish relations.
Ksaka spoke of Mr. Jacob Schiff (right), a Jewish man who received the Order of the Rising Sun for funding the the Japanese military efforts against Tsarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War. Schiff’s aid to Japan made a significant impact on a positive impression of the Jews to the Japanese.
The other man of note is Chiune Sempo Sugihara, who issued Japanese visas to Jews in Lithuania to escape the Holocaust. Sugihara’s memory is honored at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, as a Righteous Among the Nations.
One of the top modern-day connections between Jews and Japanese that was stressed was an emphasis on education. Japan modernized itself with a strong education starting in the 1800’s and has continued to this day.
The ambassador’s wife indicated to me that the Japanese do not immigrate like other Asians. That they really enjoy staying where they are.
I found this in such striking contrast to Jewish history as we have always been pushed out of whichever land we try to settle in and that is why the modern state of Israel is important to give Jews a home that is intrinsically connected to our history, traditions, and heritage.
The most impressive aspect of the evening to me was the extent that the Ambassador’s office went to to ensure that the strictly kosher guests were received with every need met even though the main meal was prepared by the in-house chef. There was kosher saki, kosher wine, kosher sushi (hilariously enough) and hot kosher entree from Abigail’s restaurant in Midtown, and everything was served on real plates with real silverware so we could eat with dignity in the ambassadors quarters! Not only was all these kosher and accomodating, but personally I am vegetarian, and I’m used to food offered as being either vegetarian, or kosher, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my sushi with fish-less, and my entree with some of the best tofu teriaki I’ve ever had!
Kol hakavod (all the honor) and arigato domo (thank you very much) Japanese Consulate!