Zaka, Iranians in Japan 311.
(photo credit: ZAKA)
TOKYO – The world-renowned ZAKA rescue team found itself collaborating with the
Iranians. Members of the Israeli army’s medical unit were found to speak
flawless Japanese, with a touch of a Kobe accent. So biblical in scale was the
disaster that hit Japan last month that it brought about some of the unlikeliest
RELATED:IDF medical aid delegation returns home from Japan Japan deputy FM tours IDF clinic in battered village
First, the Iranians.
IDF doctor in Japan says rescue team needed, appreciated
ZAKA, led by its Chairman
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, entered the tsunami- devastated port city of Kamaishi in
late March. It was when the team was sent to help with food distribution to the
surviving victims that Meshi-Zahav noticed something unexpected: an Iranian flag
flying at the food station. Thousands of miles away from home, they had happened
upon a four-man group sent by the Iranian Red Crescent, delivering 50,000 cans
of tuna and beans.
“After the initial embarrassment on both sides,”
ZAKA’s website quoted Meshi-Zahav saying, “we all put our political views to the
side in order to carry out our shared humanitarian mission.”
nongovernmental organization has for years annually invited Israeli and
Palestinian children to visit – children who have lost loved ones, in one way or
another, to the conflict. Hostilities mellow; sympathies grow. Japan is so far
away and so different from the Middle East, that it can sometimes have a
constructive effect. So, this time, Japan created a chance encounter for
Israelis with the Iranians.
Even if all that they shared was
embarrassment, that too can create a long-lasting memory.
Now to the
I had a “wow” moment when I was watching a late
night news show on local TV. It was about the medical unit the Israeli army had
sent to Minami Sanriku, one of the most devastated seashore towns.
the 60-strong team of doctors and nurses, two young girls in uniform playing
with local children caught the camera’s attention.
As the TV team drew
closer to them, we heard that they were speaking our language, with a perfect
western Japanese accent.
How so? They two are sisters, Lihi and Noy.
Their father is Japanese, their mother Israeli. They were born and grew up near
Kobe. In fact, on the day that Lihi turned four, January 17, 1995, a huge quake
hit the city (killing more than 6,000 people).
“It was my birthday. I
remember Mom panicking,” Lihi recalled.
“And I feel like it is destiny
for the two of us, having grown up in Japan, to be here working as
Hebrew-Japanese translators for the Israeli army, now, when Japan has been so
devastated and when the IDF sent its medical unit overseas for the first time
At the farewell ceremony for the Israelis last week, the town’s
mayor could hardly keep his eyes dry. The town had had a hospital. But from the
ground to the third floor, everything had gone. Only those who had managed to
remain on the roof had survived.
The mayor himself was nearly drowned in
the tsunami. Clinging to an antenna tower that just happened to be there, he
survived on the roof of city hall, as multiple tsunami waves washed over
He praised Israel and the army team for leaving behind a working
medical facility: “This facility, the X-ray machine and everything the Israelis
are so benevolent as to leave behind, will constitute the foundation upon which
Minami Sanriku will rebuild its medical services,” he promised.
“foundation” also features a dozen or so drawings, pinned up on the walls of the
These are the drawings done by local kids. Without
the two half-Japanese sisters, without their presence here in the army’s team,
those pictures would not have been drawn.
Sometimes, the cruelest
hardships create some of the happiest coincidences.The writer, an
academic at Keio University, is a former spokesman at Japan’s Foreign Ministry.
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