Grapevine: Japan and the Jews

Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
■ AS YET another anniversary marking the end of the Second World War draws near, military and political historians will once more come into the limelight to analyze the actions and motives of political and military leaders of the time. In Israel the preoccupation is by and large with the Nazi regime, its atrocities and its desire to eliminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. But Jews in Allied armies also fought on other fronts, including against the Japanese. The Japanese were not especially known for kindness to their prisoners, but they didn’t put them in gas chambers either, and one great Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, saved 6,000 Jews from the clutches of the Nazis.
Friday, April 15, at 11 a.m., Meron Medzini, visiting professor of political science at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School, will deliver a lecture on Japan and the Jews during the Holocaust era. The lecture, in Hebrew, will take place at the Japanese Embassy on the 19th floor of Tel Aviv’s Museum Tower. Medzini, who was director of the Government Press Office during the Yom Kippur War, is a fluent and articulate English-speaker, who hopefully may give this lecture again for people who do not understand Hebrew.
It is important to know that even though Japan entered into an alliance with Nazi Germany, it made it clear to the German authorities that it would not support any form of racism, including anti-Semitism. During World War II some 40,000 Jews found themselves under Japanese occupation, mainly on the Chinese mainland, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. These Jews survived the war, while their brethren in Europe were annihilated by the Nazis.
The discussion will include Japan’s attitude to the Jews since the beginning of the 20th century, the rise of anti-Semitism in Japan, and the reason that the Japanese ignored German demands to participate in the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
■ THERE WAS great excitement in Sderot last week, following the announcement that Hallel Bareli, an AMIT Shirat High School student and community activist, had been chosen as one of the torch lighters on Independence Day. Mayor Alon Davidi was thrilled that someone born and raised in Sderot would be honored in this way, but was not really surprised, considering the leadership abilities displayed by Bareli, who is a leader in the Ariel youth group, and who encourages the southern city’s youth to take responsibility for their future and that of the city in which they live. During Operation Protective Edge Bareli organized bomb shelters for the children of the city and also took care of senior citizens.
This year’s ceremony will be moderated by Channel 2 reporter Sivan Rahav-Meir and actor Amos Tamam. Rahav-Meir had initially been chose to moderate the Bible Quiz, which is part and parcel of the official Independence Day activities. But after she learned that Avshalom Kor, the moderator for close to three decades, had been notified in the most offhand fashion that he would not be the moderator this year, she told the Education Ministry that she would prefer to relinquish the honor. Education Minister Naftali Bennett phoned Kor and apologized and asked him to carry on as usual, but Kor was miffed and refused. Next in line was television and stage personality Jacky Levy, who also declined.
With very little time left, the ministry approached actor and singer Guy Zu- Aretz, whose agreement was conditional. Zu-Aretz said that no one could do a better job than Kor, and that if Kor wanted to join him on stage, he would welcome him. Moreover, if at any time prior to Independence Day Kor should decide that he wants to step back into the role in a solo capacity, Zu-Aretz would be quite happy to bow out.
Meanwhile, the National Bible Quiz was held last week in Yavne, with two winners and two runners-up. The winner from the regular state school network was Tzuriel Na’aman from the ORT School in Shlomi, and the winner from the state religious school network was Elkana Friedman of the Bnei Tzvi Yeshiva in Beit El. The runners-up were Yonatan Eldar from the Leo Baeck School in Haifa and Tehila Matas from Ulpanat Baharan Gedera. The four will participate in a preliminary contest to see which of them will represent Israel at the International Bible Quiz on Independence Day.
■ IT WAS almost like a rabbinical convention at the ceremony for the affixing of the mezuzot at the new Terem Emergency Medical Center in Modi’in Illit.
The event was attended by Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, chief rabbi of the city Rabbi Meir Kessler, Mayor Rabbi Yaakov Gutterman and his deputies Rabbi Tuvia Freind and Rabbi Avner Amar, along with members of the city council, most of whom are rabbis, representatives of all the health insurance funds, as well as Magen David Adom and United Hatzalah.