Dear Friend of the Chabad Japan,
This letter is to thank you for your material and spiritual contributions to the Chabad House of Japan, and to share with you some of my own experiences.
Anything that I write cannot fully represent richness of the Chabad House, because of the limited space I have here, but I hope what I share will be interesting to you, and that you will find heartening and meaningful. It is your donations that keep the house going, and enable them to do good work.
A Conversation: Mind Over Body
It was quiet after Shabbat dinner. I was sitting with Moshiach and his mother. He asked me about what I thought about the swine flu. I told him I wasn’t worried. It was no more dangerous than a normal flu, and sometimes worrying can actually make you sick.
“Yes, yes, Jason.” he said. “I’m glad you think this way.”
“You are a smart boy for knowing this.” I said. Moshiach was only seven. “Some people much older than you do not know this, and it causes them to have problems sometimes.”
“My father tells us this . And I know it. Sometimes I have a cold, and then my father comes to wake us up, and tells us we will go to the park, and when I am in the park, I run around and feel good.”
Such wisdom befits a boy whose name is Moshiach.
My Introduction to the Chabad Tokyo
About five years ago, a Jewish friend of mine invited me to the Chabad House. I went, and stepping in, I found myself in a sabbath atmosphere of colorful food and the buzz of talk and song, presided over by two rabbis with full beards dressed in black suits and full-brim felt hats. This wasn’t Japan anymore.
Over time, our friendship grew, and I found there were many things that resonated with me. It was something about the way they preserved certain basics in a city where these basics are often lost.
A Way to Raise Considerate Children
It was the way they raised their children to be conscious individuals, teaching them to think. When Moshiach and Zalman were 7 and 5, they loved to play with wood blocks, and they would ask me to build things with them after dinner on Shabbat. If it was late, Rebbetzin Efrat would tell them – “maybe Jason is tired, and would like to sit for awhile,” upon which the children would look to me and ask how I felt.
This is virtually the only learning that I have in raising children, other than my own upbringing, since the other social circles that I participate in consist of single working people in their 20s and 30s. People used to live in villages and family groupings, and share their knowledge about such things. Now, in a city, I feel that it’s more important to have places like the Chabad House where families can gather and learn from each other.
The Real Meaning of Kosher Food
I felt a connection, too, in the way they worked to certify the origin of their food. I have been to Chiba twice to perform kosher slaughter, even taking the day off to do so. It was a bloody experience that most people will shy away from, but I found that it made me all the more conscious that a living thing is giving its life for my dinner. And I can see how the story of the kosher slaughter is interwoven with other stories – that of the farm who delivered the chicken to the slaughterhouse, that of the woman who owns the slaughterhouse, who calls every now and then to thank us and asks us to make the next slaughter soon; that of the tourists and businesspeople who travel through Japan and want to eat kosher chicken; that of all the people from many places who converge on Sabbath or holiday dinner and eat of the chicken. It’s the closest I’ve seen food as a social transaction, rather than an economic transaction.
Wisdom Hides Beneath Foolishness
The world needs more people like Rabbi Binyomin. We once visited a professor of Hebrew in a hospital in Saitama. She is Japanese, was a frequent Shabbat guest, and never married. When I would talk to her I felt she was strange, since when we spoke, her comments and questions weren’t always on-topic. This, no doubt, was part of a larger pattern of behavior that strained family relations, such that not even her brother visits her. I wouldn’t have visited her, either, but that Binyomin asked me if I’d go with him. She had boxes of matzo in her room, Hebrew religious song playing from CDs, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rabbi on the shelf above the head of her bed. And I felt a certain clarity of vision. As we talked, I could see through the mismatched conversation and the consciously constructed Jewish decor of her room, I could see her the person. It was a way of seeing her that I think Rabbi Binyomin must have been able to see all along. As we left, she smiled and thanked us.
So the Chabad House has made it to the tenth anniversary. Growth can be seen in the number of guests who come to holiday dinners as they get bigger every year. To me it feels that everything is precariously balanced, yet help comes from people in the just in time, and they continue. Yet you would never know such things stepping in to a holiday or Sabbath dinner – these times are set apart for food, song, and talk about spiritual things.
I continue to help because I feel the world needs more people like Rabbi Binyomin and Rebbitzin Efrat, and more places like the Chabad House of Japan. There are so many pressures in a modern economy to set oneself apart from the world – to gather symbols of status, to live disconnected from family and community. In contrast, the Chabad House works toward engagement with the world.
So, please join me in celebrating the 17th anniversary of the Chabad House of Japan, and what it represents for you. Donate, and enjoy the spirit of giving, too. Binyomin and Efrat love hearing from people. Write your own stories, and send them in.
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