|Japan’s Jewish Community Center - The season of renewal|
As the autumn was a season of “new” for the Jewish Community of Japan (JCJ), so the seasons have progressed and the community is not only becoming accustomed to all of the changes, but is thriving with them.
In his sermons for the new year 5770 at Rosh Hashanah, and again for Yom Kippur, Rabbi Antonio DiGesu came back to the subject of t’shuvah, or returning. It’s a season of renewal, he reminded the congregants.
This year, he urged them, make one change. Make one change in the way your worship that will bring you closer to the traditions of Judaism. The aura and the theme he created has spilled over into many aspects of the daily life of the Jewish Community of Japan. The new building offi cially opened on 10 September after fourteen months of complete reconstruction.
The new sanctuary seated nearly two hundred people for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year and the congregation rejoiced in its homecoming after a long stay at a temporary location. Since then, congregants and groups have been busy taking advantage of all of the new facilities.
The rear of the building hosts a huge deck, which is the perfect spot to erect a Sukkah, which they did. The kids of the community gathered on the deck to create the traditional decorations and put the fi nishing touches. Rabbi Antonio himself is new to the congregation and has also settled into his role nicely.
Rabbi Antonio hails from Sicily in Italy and has enjoyed injecting some Sephardic tunes and new traditions into the routines of the community. He loves telling stories to the kids and making his points personal when speaking to the congregation.
He is the type of speaker that makes the audience feel like he is addressing each member personally. He takes a personal interest in each of the students in his B’nai Mitzvah classes and makes it his mission to ensure that they are well-prepared for their special day.
The children of the congregation revel in the new space for their religious school. The JCJ has well over seventy children enrolled in its Sunday and Wednesday programmes. Best of all, the children can go to the sanctuary to participate in prayer with proper Siddurim and the view of the ark every week.
In addition to a new building and a new rabbi, the community is employing a new chef for its Kosher kitchen. After more than thirty years with the community, Toyoko Izaki will shortly retire. Her successor – not her replacement – is Ms Mitsuko Mikami who is enjoying learning the ins and outs of Kosher cooking.
She has extensive experience in the kitchen not only with various ethnic foods, but also with Macrobiotic dishes. She makes vegetarian dishes along with her latkes! Her meals have been a delightful mix of the traditional with the innovative.
The kitchen has had its share of use in the new building. Because of its size, it can hold a proper cooking class which the Japanese Jewish Women’s Group held in January.
The new building also has facilities for different types of programmes. For Chanukah, some parents put on a party/carnival where there were games in the classrooms, balloon animal makers in the lounge, and lunch and Israeli dancing in the auditorium.
Security in a new building in such a large city is of paramount concern to the community and indeed, measures have been taken to ensure safety. Everything is new and upgraded.
Besides that, the location of the building is just a few meters away from a police-box, which is staffed twenty-four hours a day by trained offi cers. All of these things were taken into consideration when the building was still in the design phase so that the building could be as secure as possible.
One theatre troupe recently performed a dress rehearsal of their upcoming production in the auditorium. There has been a monthly fi lm festival going on using the screen and projector also in the auditorium.
The first bar mitzvah in the sanctuary took place in November. A bat mitzvah is planned for May and coming this spring will be another fi rst for the new building: the Bar Mitzvah party.
Not only will the young man become a bar mitzvah in the sanctuary, but his parents will host the celebration in the new building as well. The rabbi, along with the entire congregation, hopes that these are the fi rst of many to come in the beautiful, open and airy space.
The entire congregation is thankful for the gift of the new building in which generations of Jews in Japan will be able to worship freely. It is indeed a legacy in its infancy, and the Jewish Community of Japan rejoices in the renewal.
Jewish Community Center of Japan
(Issue March 2010)