Grapevine: J&J

But there was more to the Jewish-Japanese relationship than is generally known.

AUTHORS ELLIOT JAGER (left) and Azriel Bermant (center) discuss British-Israeli relations with journalist Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem on Tuesday. (photo credit: ELIYAHU YANAI/MISHKENOT SHA’ANANIM)
AUTHORS ELLIOT JAGER (left) and Azriel Bermant (center) discuss British-Israeli relations with journalist Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
With the notable exception of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who issued thousands of transit visas to Jews fleeing from the Nazis and is the only Japanese national to be named Righteous Among the Nations, there is very little known of Japanese-Jewish connections.
Another Japanese-Jewish connection can be traced to the late Shaul Eisenberg, a German-born business tycoon, who, after the Nazi rise to power, wandered around Europe and found his way to Japan in 1941.
He married a native Japanese woman, made a lot of money out of import-export and also became a person of influence throughout Asia. He subsequently became interested in Israel, founded the Israel Corporation, which was an umbrella for several major companies, and also built Asia House in Tel Aviv.
But there was more to the Jewish-Japanese relationship than is generally known.
Hundreds of imprisoned Jewish soldiers who had fought in the army of the czar of Russia formed a number of unique quasi-religious communities in the POW camps in Japan during the 1904-1905 Russo- Japanese War.
Paradoxically, these camps evolved into a path to freedom for the Jewish soldiers, in contrast to the near-slavery they had experienced in the army. It was not only a consequence of the fact that the Japanese captivity, with its unexpectedly humanistic regime, put an immediate stop to the risks to their lives which they had faced on the battlefront but no less important, the Japanese did not emulate the Russian policy of discrimination against Jews.
But even in Japanese captivity, where there were two Jews, there were three opinions. The POWs were divided into two main groups – Orthodox and Zionist.
The latter were led by the Jewish hero of the era Joseph Trumpeldor, who had been captured in Port Arthur and imprisoned in Osaka. While the majority of the soldiers identified with the Orthodox camp, the Zionists represented a new, emerging Jewish identity that was nationalist rather than religious.
It is this fascinating but little-known chapter of Jewish history that will be the subject of the Japanese Embassy’s lecture on Friday, March 9, at 11 a.m.
The lecture, in the embassy’s library in the Museum Tower, 4 Berkowitz Street, Tel Aviv, will be delivered by Prof. Dov Ber Kotlerman of the department of literature of the Jewish people at Bar-Ilan University.
Kotlerman is the author and editor of a number of monographs and collections in the field of Eastern European Jewish (Yiddish) culture and Jewish-Asian connections.
He has also compiled a Yiddish-Japanese dictionary that was published in Tokyo in 2010. Registration for the event is required and can be made at
■ IT’S NOT often that two authors get together to launch their respective books.
But then again, both Azriel Bermant, author of Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East, published in 2016, and Jerusalem Report senior editor Elliot Jager, whose book, The Balfour Declaration Sixty-Seven Words – 100 Years of Conflict came out a couple of months ahead of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, had each gone through several solo launches in Israel and beyond, so their joint venture this week sponsored by the Times of Israel at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim was in the nature of the cherry on the cake.
In keeping with the current armchair chat trend, the two sat down on stage but barely talked to each other. They did back each other up on certain issues, but the conversation was led by journalist Matthew Kalman who wondered aloud why despite many other important things that happened a hundred years ago, people were still talking about the Balfour Declaration.
Balfour was, without doubt, a Christian Zionist who strongly believed in biblical prophecy but Jager and Bermant did not focus solely on Balfour.
Their remarks also veered to Ronald Reagan, former British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, Winston Churchill, and even very briefly Gordon Brown, who like Balfour and Thatcher had a very Christian upbringing. Thatcher’s father was a Methodist lay preacher and Gordon Brown’s father was a Church of Scotland Minister. Although Jager and Bermant agreed on most things, there were occasional differences of opinion as to who was pro-Israel and who wasn’t. Jager was adamant that if Britain had been a Catholic country, there would never have been a Balfour Declaration.
Bermant demurred, noting that Tony Blair is Catholic, but at the same time is very pro Israel. What he didn’t say was that Blair was an Anglican while in office, and it was only after leaving office that he converted to Catholicism. Although Thatcher was very pro-Israel, for the most part, she went along with the policy of the Foreign Office, which was pro-Arab.
The one area in which she was not pro Israel was with regard to the settlements which to her were like a red rag to a bull.
The bottom line was that it made no real difference where the personal sympathies of a president or a prime minister lay. It was actually naïve on the part of Israelis or Jews, in general, to believe that the leader of any country would carry out a pro-Israel policy unless it was in the national interests of the country which the leader represented.
■ NOT SO long ago, the C word was a no-no in discussions of someone’s illness.
It was the elephant in the room that was never mentioned by name. This avoidance continues in the Hebrew media, but in many English speaking circles, the opposite is true. People not only admit that they have cancer, but talk about how it affects them and what treatment they have undergone or are undergoing. There are umpteen support groups for cancer patients, and there are numerous activities designed for psychological and emotional healing in addition to recognized medical therapies for physical healing.
One of the healing activities is Playback Theater, which in Israel is conducted by Toby Klein Greenwald, who is herself a recovering cancer patient. Klein Greenwald brought four of the Na’ana Playback Dance Theater performers to Beit El Halev in Jerusalem to interact with an audience of women who have undergone or are currently undergoing cancer treatment.
Playback Theater is totally improvised and is based on what is said by members of the audience.
Although the event was conducted in Hebrew, it was clear that English was the mother tongue of most of those present.
Klein Greenwald set the ball rolling by asking everyone to contribute one word related to her condition. The Playback Group in movement, facial and oral expression then acted out the composite of words.
After that, various women came forward to tell their stories, and the group then acted those out, and it was quite amazing to see how quickly they penetrated the souls of the storytellers. The secret said Klein Greenwald is listening. You can’t have successful Playback if the players aren’t listening. The most heart-warming story came from a woman with several children. Her husband is one of those people who can’t cope with illness, so her children offered to roster themselves so that one of them would accompany her each time she had to go to the hospital for treatment. They made a game of it and used to take on other identities. She’s now in remission. “I’m so glad I got cancer,” she said. “It was the best time of my life because it enabled me to spend quality time with each of my children – just me and one child at a time.”
■ ANOTHER FORM of healing comes under the title of Twist Out Cancer. It’s actually the name of an international non-profit charitable organization that provides psychosocial support to individuals touched by cancer through creative arts programming.
Its upcoming event, which is open to the wider public is its Brushes with Cancer Exhibition and Gala that will be held at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, at Beit Andromeda in Tel Aviv–Jaffa.
In Israel, Brushes with Cancer matches individuals touched by cancer with artists who help them create a unique piece of artwork that reflects their cancer journey.
The exhibition will feature 50 of the works inspired by 50 artists and the patients they helped and will showcase the stories of the patients through the works of art... The gala will be emceed by Yuna Leibzon and will feature performances from some of the finest musicians in Israel.
Jenna Benn Shersher, the founder and executive director of Twist Out Cancer, which was established in 2011, is very excited about the event because it brings together many people of different ages from a variety of backgrounds who are able to interact because cancer is their common denominator. The creative arts are a helpful mechanism towards healing, says Shersher.
Entertainment will be provided by singer Totemo who is also a cancer survivor, rock band Electric Desert and DJ Pipe as well as a dance by cancer survivor Vital Zinger. Among the participating artists are Nissim Ben Aderet, Igal Fedida and Colin Reif.