Three Years Later, Japan’s Jews Say Thanks

July 8, 2014


Philip Rosenfeld knew something was horribly wrong when he looked out his window and saw smoke billowing from the damaged oil refineries of Tokyo Bay.

The president of the largest and one of the oldest Jewish congregations in Japan had just spent the afternoon calming a first-time visitor to the country telling her quakes like the one they both felt were frequent and usually inconsequential.

Now he knew the situation was worse than he thought.

“It was an unreal scenario,” Rosenfeld recently said, recalling the tsunami and nuclear scare that followed.

In response to the catastrophe, Rosenfeld and his community quickly joined forces with JDC. Over the next two and a half years, they were partners in distributing more than $2.5 million in aid to help victims of the natural disaster — funds that benefited thousands of people. Now, as that program is coming to an end and the last dollars are being spent, Rosenfeld looks back with a sense of pride at its achievements.

“It was an opportunity for the Jews of Japan to let people to know we live in Japan and we’re Jewish and we’re part of the country and people,” he said. “When we have the opportunity to help people, we take it.”

Rosenfeld said the first step was sending food, blankets, and other first-aid supplies to the afflicted areas near the city of Sendai. Then, they helped the Israel Defense Forces set up a field hospital by purchasing supplemental apparatus. Once the sense of immediacy passed, JDC brought in experts to help people deal with their losses. Hibuki, a JDC-developed program featuring a lovable stuffed dog, was brought in to alleviate post-traumatic stress among young children. For the elderly, a program called Strawberry Fields was offered where senior citizens could socialize and rehabilitate at small, multi-purpose neighborhood-based centers or ‘community cafés’; these facilities helped to build community in transitional centers where neighbors were mostly strangers to one another.

Rosenfeld credited JDC’s professionalism and commitment.

“JDC delivered on what it was going to do; they did everything they committed to,” he said.

The American-born community leader was sufficiently impressed by JDC’s operations that he even joined its Board of Directors.

“I haven’t seen companies in the private sector work as efficiently and quickly as JDC,” Rosenfeld said.

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