After the quake: Pessah in Tokyo

"People are starting to come back slowly" says Chabad Rabbi Mendy Sudakevich as the Japanese capital's small Jewish community prepares its Seder.

chabad japan 311 (photo credit: Chabad)
chabad japan 311
(photo credit: Chabad)
Recovery is still a rarely-talked about concept in Japan, but with Pessah approaching, members of the devastated nation’s small Jewish community are making plans to celebrate the holiday’s signature Seder meals in Tokyo.
“People are starting to come back slowly,” said Chabad-Lubavitch of Japan Director Rabbi Mendy Sudakevich. “Their jobs are here.”
Sudakevich and his family evacuated days after March’s deadly earthquake and tsunami claimed tens of thousands of lives, and left a nuclear power plant spewing radiation from its damaged reactors.
His wife and children remain in Israel, but the rabbi decamped to Hong Kong, where he launched a relief effort focused on the inundated northern city of Sendai, along with Chabad of Asia director Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon.
Sudakevich returned to Tokyo three weeks ago.
He expects a fraction of the usual crowd, or about 100 people, to attend each of the two Seders – the first night of the holiday begins April 18 – but feeding everyone will be a challenge in the upended country, he said.
With the Fukushima nuclear power plant still leaking radiation into the sea, air and surrounding countryside, many agricultural products are now viewed as health risks. The rabbi is avoiding local produce at all costs.
“There are things we can get, and other things that we are being advised to avoid,” explained Sudakevich.
Dwindling supplies at his Tokyo Chabad House include some chickens, but kosher meat beyond that cannot be found. A shipment of kosher-for-Passover food has been held up in Singapore, and will likely arrive after the holiday has ended.
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Some relief came with a delegation of 60 IDF soldiers who were dispatched to build a medical clinic. They also brought Passover supplies for local Jews.
“There’s matza and wine,” said Sudakevich.
“That’s the minimum that we need for a Seder.”
The rabbi hopes to receive another shipment from the United States in time for the holiday.
In the meantime, he’s giving Torah classes and running children’s activities and has hosted 30 people for Sabbath services and dinner.
The meals’ traditional challa bread came from Sendai’s Arpajan Bakery, which baked bread and distributed it free of charge as part of the Chabad Relief Initiative.
Sudakevitch recently took an elderly Jewish man home from the hospital. He had been hospitalized since suffering a heart attack last year.
“He’s been in the hospital since November and he was just discharged,” said Sudakevich, adding that the 86-year-old has no family. “But he doesn’t think he needs help.”
The rabbi hired someone to help the man around his home for a week. He’s trying to find a way to finance full-time care for the man.
Said Sudakevich: “I need to find solutions.”