In Praise of the Jews of Kobe
by Menachem Fogel
There have been three times in my life when I have seen something that has taken my breath away. The first was when I beheld Victoria Falls. The broad panorama of this mile-wide behemoth plunging into the abyss, spraying it's plume of spray an equal mile into the air and roaring at a million decibels – took my breath away. You can read about it in greater detail here (http://meanderwithmenahem.blogspot.com/2008/03/victoria-falls-smoke-that-thunders.html).
The second time I gasped for air was when I entered the hallowed gates of the Esnoga, the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. I wasn't quite ready for this sense of sanctity that enveloped me. The ancient wooden pews and bima, the wavy-curved candle-chandeliers that light the synagogue to this day, the sand spread over the wooden floor beams, all came together to transport me to a different age, to a place dissimilar to any I had known until then. The result has been that every time I have ever been in Amsterdam (and I worked in the Netherlands for 18 months some years ago) – I would make a point of going back to the Esnoga.
I think the young families who maintain the synagogue in Kobe ought to be carried through the main street of Judaism on the shoulders of us all. There is a small group of folks who could just as easily have walked away from the synagogue and not taken it upon themselves to maintain it. They could have lifted the phone to Chabad headquarters and offered them a building ready-to-go, Holy Ark and all. But they didn't do that. They decided that they will keep up the synagogue. They will, voluntarily, pay out of their own pockets to ensure the upkeep of the synagogue building, the maintenance of the mikveh, the hiring and paying of a full-time rabbi and family. They will ensure that every Shabbat there will be a minyan and that they will pray in the Nusach of the founders of the synagogue out of respect for the efforts made by those who came before them to establish a tiny Jewish island in this most un-Jewish of places. And they will be hospitable and open their doors to any and every Jew who lives near and/or far.
The third time I felt a sharp intake of breath upon seeing something for the first time, was when I walked into the Ohel Shelomo Synagogue in Kobe, Japan. Once again, I was taken by surprise. I had been into the two wonderful Chabad Houses in Tokyo, which are shtibel-like in their warmth and friendship, and I love returning to them whenever I am in Tokyo. But somehow, walking into Ohel Shelomo jolted me. The Holy Ark draped with the flags of Israel and Japan on either side caused me some feeling of imbalance. I was having difficulty wrapping my mind around the sight of a Japanese flag in a synagogue. Quite honestly, every time I have returned it takes me a few minutes to settle in my brain that there a fully functional Orthodox synagogue in Japan. I still find it literally mind-boggling.
From Jacob L. Schachter
By chance, my son stumbled on your blog "History of the Jews of Kobe." I found it most fascinating since I was stationed in Kobe from December 1946 through July 1949, while assigned to the Hyogo Military Government Team. Your blog mentions a number of people whose names I recognized from the period I was there.
- There are several other family names that do not appear, including Mr and Mrs Stolowy and Hirsch Marinsky (the Stolowys’ partner), both of whom "included" me in their households after duty hours (as a ben bayit).
- There were also Capt. and Mrs. Barach and Ruth Margolin and their young sons Jerry and Bobby. I taught Jerry for his Bar Mitzvah.
- The Stolowys had a daughter named Leah who was married to Murad Attia and they (the Attias) had two daughters whose names I believe were Frieda and Rita. To the best of my knowledge the Attias moved to Panama.
- The Stolowys and Marinskys lived in Kitano-cho and, next door to them, lived Avraham Wiznizer, who later moved to Curacao.
- The Choueke family had two little boys (ages 6? and 4?) and asked me to teach the older boy so that he would be able to read Hebrew. Surprisingly, I found an old siddur in our little shul that had the Alef Bet printed on one of the opening pages. This was done under the watchful eye of the grandmother. She was not happy with my Ashkenazi pronunciation of the letter vav - she insisted the name of the letter was waf !
- The nearest Jewish chaplain was Capt Max Daina (DY-nah) from I Corps stationed in Kyoto. During one of his many visits to Kobe he brought with him RAF Wing Commander (i.e. Colonel) Bloch visiting from Singapore who was also making the rounds of British Commonwealth Jewish soldiers. By chance, I mentioned to the chaplains that the Choueke boys, born in Kobe during WWII, had never had a bris. Chaplain Bloch told me that on his next visit (six months later) he would bring with him his brit milah instruments. We informed the family and the event took place!