Taste Of Moshiach In The Land Of The Rising Sun
(Part 1 of 2)
By Avrohom Jacobson
a spacious villa in Tokyo, Rabbi Binyamin Edery directs Chabad activities
throughout Japan. * In eight months he managed to create a revolution and to
breathe new life into the Jewish communities scattered throughout Japan. * The
central Chabad House has become a magnet even for non-Jews, and many Japanese
are hearing about their unique role for the first time. * A story of amazing
success despite all odds.
Friday night in Tokyo, Japan. One after the other, the lights go out in the
villas of this exclusive neighborhood. Only one light remains on after midnight.
In the large dining room decorated in the finest Japanese tradition, about
twenty people sit at the Shabbos table. The meal has ended, but nobody is in a
hurry to leave. The people listen closely to the engrossing class given by Rabbi
Binyamin Edery, the director of the Chabad House, and the women are fascinated
by his wife Efrat’s class.
a lawyer, sits there too. He listens to Rabbi Edery tell how the Rebbe MH"M
listens to the whispering of the heart of every Jew, and he recalls his first
encounter with the Rebbe’s emissaries to Japan.
was half a year before, also a Friday night. He finished work at the office late
at night and instead of returning home, he felt an urge to walk about the city.
He wandered about for a quarter of an hour with no particular destination, until
he came to the train station. He had stopped near a bank when he suddenly
noticed, a few feet away, a peculiar looking couple, dressed very strangely for
Japan. Their odd manner of dress reminded him of his youth, and he instinctively
called out, "Shabbat Shalom!"
and Efrat turned around and when they identified the source of the unusual
greeting for that part of the globe, they greeted Dovid warmly.
excitement at the encounter brought back memories of his youth in a traditional
family in the United States. He told Rabbi Edery that it had been years since he
encountered a religious Jew on the streets of Tokyo, certainly not a Chassid
dressed in a sirtuk and wearing a hat. They spoke for a while until it
began raining. Rabbi Edery invited him to their hotel room, where they were
living for the first few months after their arrival in Japan. But the hour was
late and Dovid hurried home, though not before giving Rabbi Edery his business
Edery couldn’t carry it, so he had to hide it under a bush near the bank,
hoping that the rain wouldn’t ruin it. On Motzaei Shabbos Rabbi Edery went
back to the bank, checked under the bush and found the card, damp but legible.
The e-mail address was entered into the Chabad House computer, and each week
Dovid received an e-mail, like hundreds of other Jews throughout Japan who
receive weekly messages from the Chabad House.
months ago, when the Chabad House moved to its new location in the spacious
villa in the exclusive San-Nu neighborhood, Rabbi Edery and his wife decided to
invite twenty guests for the Friday night meal. Until then they had been unable
to invite guests, due to the small size of their apartment. Among the guests was
Dovid, who had received the invitation by e-mail, along with a detailed map of
the area. At exactly 7:30 p.m., ten minutes before Shabbos, Dovid knocked at
Edery invited him into their spacious living room, which had become a shul.
Dovid removed his shoes before entering and gaped in astonishment at the odd
contrast between the Japanese decor and the aron kodesh covered with a
velvet paroches, as well as the silver candlesticks on the Shabbos table.
will never forget that Shabbos. After twenty years of utter neglect of his Yiddishkeit,
his Judaism was revealed anew. More guests poured in, and by the time Shabbos
began, nearly thirty Jews had shown up for Mincha. Rabbi Edery gave a
brief talk between Mincha and Kabbalas Shabbos regarding the
expanded Chabad House, which would be able to host large numbers of Jews for
Shabbos and other special occasions.
Chabad House is the house of every Jew, so feel at home," concluded Rabbi
Edery. Dovid was so moved by this that he got up and asked permission to say a
few words. "I must tell you, honored rabbi and all the guests, that this
week I felt a strong longing for my parents’ home. I yearned for the warmth of
Judaism, for the Friday nights around the Shabbos table. The memories came over
me in waves, and then suddenly there was your invitation to come for Shabbos. I
can honestly say: the Rebbe heard my heart’s desire and brought me back
dozens of years after thousands of the Rebbe’s shluchim have gone to
nearly every spot on the globe, it’s hard to find a country without a Chabad
House – certainly not a developed country with hundreds of millions of people.
Yet until a little over a year ago there was no permanent Chabad House in Japan.
Perhaps it was the language, maybe the utter lack of connection to any Jewish
environment for thousands of miles, or perhaps because it has a relatively small
community of only a few hundred Jewish families. Maybe it was simply time for
the Japanese to also be prepared for Moshiach.
Edery’s story is reminiscent of the thrilling stories of the first shluchim,
who went out to spiritual deserts and transformed them into blooming gardens,
about which the Rebbe can happily say "Basi L’Gani." He too,
like those shluchim of old, had to begin work contending with an
extremely difficult environment for an observant Jew. Now he continues to take
those first steps in establishing a flourishing Jewish community.
Edery recently visited Beis Chayeinu, and we took the opportunity to interview
the Rebbe’s shliach to Japan; to hear about the difficult beginnings,
about the Rebbe’s miracles, about the ease with which people accept the besuras
ha’Geula and happily join in preparing themselves and their surroundings
to greet Moshiach.
Edery is a charming young man who got married just a little over a year ago.
After half a year of learning in the kollel of 770 in Kfar Chabad, he
left the Chassidic atmosphere for Eastern Asia, in order to bring them the besuras
Edery first became acquainted with Eastern culture as a bachur when he
was on shlichus in New Delhi, India. There, under the guidance of Rabbi
Nachman Nachmanson, he learned the basics of shlichus and how to handle
the problems that crop up which ordinarily Jews don’t have to contend with.
That is also where he first got the idea of shlichus to Japan.
Edery relates, "In recent years, Israeli tourists have come to accept the
fact that wherever they travel they will encounter the Rebbe’s shluchim.
Since Japan is also on the route of many tourists, they would ask us for the
address of the Chabad House in Japan. When they heard there was no such thing,
they were quite surprised and said: So open one! That’s when I first had the
idea of checking out the possibility of opening a Chabad House in Japan one day.
Tishrei this past year, Rabbi Zimroni Tzik called me and suggested that we meet
with a certain wealthy Jew who was married to a Japanese convert, who had come
with his wife to visit his parents in Hertzeliya. We went to them and spoke with
them about the possibility of Chabad branching out to Japan. His wife, who is
very involved in Jewish life in Japan, maintained that Chabad would be welcomed
by the local community. She and her husband expressed their hope that we would
agree to come to Japan.
that meeting, my wife and I decided to go to Tokyo for Chanuka, to make a farbrengen
and do special Chanuka projects, and in the meantime to check the place out and
see whether we wanted to move there on a permanent basis.
we decided in principle, we wrote to the Rebbe the details of the plan and
received a clear answer in the Igros Kodesh (Vol. 23, p. 302) –
that since we were in the days of Chanuka, we had to increase in hafatzas ha’Torah
and Chassidus until it reached the outside, and to do it all with chayus
and light, increasing light.
answer gave us tremendous strength, and after we got the money together, which
we figured would suffice for tickets for two and a one week’s stay, we left
for Japan. In addition to writing down the names of a few Jewish families in
Japan (which we got from Rabbi Gershon Shnur, the shliach in Ganei Tikva,
who had arranged a Pesach seider in Tokyo in the past), we took a
suitcase full of menoros and candles, and another suitcase full of food,
including the ingredients for doughnuts.
we landed in Narita, Japan’s international airport, we met an Israeli couple
who had just returned from the islands near Japan. We asked them where the
Israeli tourists could be found, and they directed us to Shinshaku and Shibuya,
Tokyo’s two business districts, where Israeli tourists operate booths selling
various products to earn some money to support themselves.
the airport we went to a hotel where we unpacked our bags and got to work. That
is when we first began to realize what financial problems awaited us. One night
in a decent hotel costs nearly two hundred dollars! The next day, when we saw a
price tag of 18 dollars on a bunch of grapes, it was clear to us that this shlichus
was going to be extremely costly.
arranged a meeting with one of the activists in the local community to organize
a farbrengen. Baruch Hashem, the meeting was very successful, and
he expressed his joy at being able to help Chabad. Right after the meeting, he
began making telephone calls inviting his friends to a Chanuka farbrengen.
of the unusual gathering got around and despite little advance notice, nearly
fifty people showed up. By Japanese standards, this was a crowd you would be
lucky to get for the High Holidays! During the farbrengen, after we spoke
at length about the Rebbe’s besuras ha’Geula, many people resolved to
increase their mitzva observance in order to prepare for Moshiach’s
coming. At the end of the farbrengen we raffled a dollar from the Rebbe,
which an Israeli boy named Sammy won. It just so happened that that day was his
the discussions we had that night and in the days that followed with many
families in the community, we got a very dismal picture. Jewish life in Tokyo is
run by the J.C.C., a Conservative-Reform organization. In a conversation we had
with the conservative rabbi, he said he focused his energy on maintaining the
status quo, and that he did not try to burden people with new demands. From this
perspective he didn’t see a contradiction between the work of the J.C.C. and
the work of Chabad in encouraging Yiddishkeit. ‘They are separate
domains,’ he explained.
further learned that the J.C.C. had only 120 Jewish families as members, some of
whom did not even attend the High Holiday services. Their sole connection to
Judaism was expressed in paying their J.C.C. dues. We met many intermarried
only kosher products in Japan are fruits and vegetables. Even fish is hard to
get. Even though the Japanese love fish and there are many kosher fish, it’s
hard to obtain a whole fish, and the kosher fish are saturated with blood of
non-kosher fish and other sea creatures the Japanese like. When we asked the
Jews whether we could get chalav Yisroel and pas Yisroel, they
didn’t know what we were talking about.
dismal situation convinced us not to go back to Eretz Yisroel, but to remain in
Japan in a way of l’chatchila aribber. We went into this shlichus with
open eyes. It was clear to us that this shlichus would be very difficult,
but when we saw the spiritual state of the community, we couldn’t allow
ourselves to stand off to the side and delay the work for even one day. We wrote
to the Rebbe about this and opened the Chabad House of Japan."
the Edery couple announced their intention to remain in Japan, the local Jews
were thrilled and very impressed. They knew how difficult life in Japan was in
general, and imagined how much harder it would be for a Chabad couple particular
about mitzva observance. Some offered to help the young couple. One
family, for example, offered to host them in their home for a month.
first Jewish kindergarten in Tokyo opened right after Chanuka, directed by Efrat
Edery. Some families removed their children from the non-Jewish kindergartens
and placed them in the Chabad school. The little children managed to make a
Jewish revolution in their homes when they began asking their parents to make a
Shabbos table like they saw in school, including candles, Kiddush, etc.
The parents, who up until then had not heard a word from their children about Yiddishkeit,
suddenly heard their children relating the story of the parsha and
singing Jewish songs.
Edery developed a list of Jewish families living in Tokyo. He managed to locate
over 300 families who were not listed as members of the Jewish community. Within
a short time he let most of the Jews in Tokyo know that in Japan there is an
address for all their Jewish needs.
the early months, the Chabad House address was Rabbi Edery’s cell phone
number. Finding a suitable apartment in Tokyo is almost harder than splitting
the Yam Suf! This urgent problem is because Tokyo is one of the most
crowded cities in the world, making it hard to find a large apartment to rent.
Edery described the type of apartment he needed to the real estate agents –
capable of hosting many activities, accommodating dozens of people for Shabbos;
one with a large porch on which he could build a sukka. They said it was
nearly impossible to find something like that in Tokyo, unless he was willing to
part with tens of thousands of dollars each month...
a few months, Rabbi Edery ran his activities from his motel room. Since he
couldn’t hold classes where he lived in due to lack of space and no official
permission, he had to hold the classes in the homes of mekuravim. When he
needed to meet with a businessman or have a heart-to-heart talk with someone, he
met them in the lobby of a Tokyo hotel.
was during this difficult period that Rabbi Edery worked on his list of
addresses. Before each holiday he sent creative holiday reminders to hundreds of
Jewish families in Tokyo. For example, before Purim, hundreds of families
received a cute envelope in the mail with hamantashen in it, along with a
brochure explaining about Purim and its connection to the Geula. Before
Pesach they received a beautiful brochure detailing the mitzvos of the Yom
Tov that included a form to sell their chametz through the Chabad
House. Before Pesach Sheini they found an envelope with a piece of matza in
their mailbox, along with a brochure explaining the significance of Pesach
the meantime, Rabbi Edery managed to connect with the Israeli Consul, Coby
Shoshani, and he became a regular guest at the Israeli Consulate. (It’s a
small world. On his first visit to the consulate, one of the security agents
identified him by name and told his buddy that Rabbi Edery could be allowed in.
It turned out that he recognized Rabbi Edery from when the rabbi worked at the
Chabad House at Kennedy airport.) Every Friday he met with embassy staff and
gave each of them two challos for Shabbos which his wife had made.
of the mekuravim who received these fresh challos each week asked
Rabbi Edery which bakery sold them. He couldn’t believe it when Rabbi Edery
told him that his wife baked all the challos in their motel room.
Chabad Mikva of Japan
Immediately after deciding to stay in Japan, Rabbi Edery went to check out
the mikva of the Jewish community. He didn’t expect to see bor al
gabei bor, but he was shocked to discover that the filling of the pit with
rainwater was not halachically correct. In an urgent conversation with
Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, he learned that the mikva was not
kosher for t’villas nashim.
his visit to New York, Rabbi Edery met with his father-in-law and Rabbi Avrohom
Osdoba, rav of Crown Heights, and learned exactly how to construct the
first Chabad mikva of Japan. His father-in-law, Rabbi Yaakov Reich, who
was recently involved in building a mikva in Crown Heights, drew the
plans for the mikva. In the meantime, Rabbi Edery raised most of the
money for the mikva, and he hopes it will be completed within a few