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January 27, 1995 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-01-27

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Earthquake Spares
The Jews Of Kobe

New York (JTA) — The tiny Jew-
ish community of Kobe, Japan,
managed to escape serious harm
from the devastating earthquake
that struck western Japan.
"It was just lucky, that's all,"
said Simon Elimalah, the presi-
dent of the Kobe synagogue who
was reached by telephone.
While no one among the com-
munity's 30 families was seri-
ously injured, at least one family
lost its home, and several other
homes and businesses sustained
serious damage, he said.
The Ohel Shelomoh synagogue
itself, built in 1970, suffered mi-
nor damage.
Rabbi James Lebeau, spiritu-
al leader of the synagogue in
Tokyo, also reached by telephone,
described the Kobe shul as a
"beautiful Sephardic synagogue"
situated in a hillside neighbor-
hood overlooking the city.
"The earthquake was very se-
lective," said Lebeau, who has vis-
ited Kobe and was in touch with
members of the community there.
The Tokyo synagogue, which
has about 150 member families,
and the one in Kobe are the only
two synagogues in Japan, the
rabbi said. The Kobe shul does
not have its own rabbi.
Elimalah said tablets depict-
ing the Ten Commandments,
made of marble and hanging in
the Kobe shul, fell during the
quake and were shattered.
Despite the relative good for-
tune of the Jewish community,
Elimalah, sounding fired and de-
pressed, described the general
scene in Kobe as horrific.
"It looks like after World War
II," he said. "Food is hard to get,
gasoline is hard to get.
"And it's still going on," he
Because of structural damage
sustained during the quake itself,
"every day, another building falls
down. Some of the buildings —
you wouldn't believe they could
come down."
The Kobe Jewish community
was formed in the 1930s, most-
ly by Russian immigrants who
established import-export busi-
nesses, according to Lebeau.
During World War II, Lebeau
explained, the community
swelled with the influx of some
1,500 refugees from Nazi Europe,
including almost all the students
and faculty of the Lithuanian Mir
These refugees spent most of
the war years in Shanghai. But
in a little-known chapter of the
Jews of Shanghai, their first port
of entry was Kobe.
They had arrived in Japan
with visas issued by Sempo Sug-
ihara, the then-Japanese consul

general in Kovno, Lithuania.
Sugihara was awarded a
posthumous Righteous Among
the Nations award by Yad
Vashem in 1984.
Today, most of the Europeans .
have left Kobe and the Jewish
community is largely Sephardi,
composed of Jews of Iraqi, Syri-
an and Moroccan descent. These
Middle Eastern Jews were at-
tracted to Japan primarily for
business reasons.
The synagogue, which is Or-
thodox, holds Shabbat and holi-
day services. It serves the entire
Kansai region of Japan, which in-
cludes the cities of Osaka and Ky-
oto, according to Lebeau.
Elimalah, president of the syn-
agogue, said that many Jews who
do business in the area, especially
Israelis, also attend the syna-
gogue regularly, but he did not
have an accurate count for them.
Both the Tokyo and Kobe syn-
agogues have begun raising
funds to aid the victims of the
Elimalah said he was housing
a family whose home was badly
damaged. There were also re-
ports that the synagogue would
be offering an apartment above
the sanctuary as a refuge for
those in need.
Several American Jewish or-
ganizations have also started re-
lief efforts. They include the
American Jewish World Service,
B'nai B'rith International, the
Union of Orthodox Jewish Con-
gregations of America and the
American Jewish Joint Distrib-
ution Committee.
These funds will be distributed
to Jews and non-Jews alike, ac-
cording to the organizations.
Those wishing to contact the
Kobe synagogue directly can
write to: The Jewish Communi-
ty of Kansai; 12/12 Kitano-cho 4
chome; Chuo-ku; Port P.O. Box
No. 639; Kobe, Japan 651-01.

Police In Haiti
Return To Israel

Jerusalem (JTA) — The Israeli
police contingent that was dis-
patched to Haiti last October as
part of an international peace-
keeping force returned to Israel
last week.
During their three months of
service in the tiny Caribbean is-
land nation, the 28 Israeli vol-
unteers worked to help create
better relations between the com-
munity and local police.
The Israeli detachment was
part of a 1,500-member interna-
tional team of police that took
over civilian peacekeeping.

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