Jewish Japan – and the Mixing Thereof
It is Israel-Japan Friendship month, so declared by the Israel Students’ Association of Japan. The events of the month include art exhibits, movie nights and music and dance demonstrations. (See the calendar of events here.) Recently I have had the opportunity to attend a couple of the events, and I have found it amazing and astounding to discover the true meaning of collaboration espoused in the organizers, attendees and everyone involved.
Just two days ago was the big event of the month, the party at the Jewish Community Center of Japan. The highlight for me had to be the music. Klezmer is a style of music that originated among the Jews of Eastern Europe, and it has a deep, sonorous sound, reminiscent of the human voice with its capabilities of expressing both great joy and great sorrow. The resonant tones of the clarinet and the jumpy accordian mix together with thumping percussion instruments to make it impossible for any listeners to keep their feet still. Often there are ringing violins added to the mix in many Klezmer bands. Since the nineteenth century Klezmer has also been associated with the Yiddish speaking population in the United States and around the world.
So you can imagine my surprise when I saw that the Klezmer band we were joyfully hearing was comprised of only Japanese people. Even the accompanying belly dancer (not a particularly Jewish thing, but fun nonetheless) was Japanese.
There were more than 250 people at this party, many of them Japanese but a lot of them Jewish and/or Israeli as well. Everyone laughed and drank and danced the night away together – cultural differences melted away in a blissful sound of divine orchestration.
It’s never easy to be a Jew anywhere in the world, but I often feel that it’s easier here than in other spots around the globe. The Japanese are interested in the Jews – they are a curiosity, this monotheistic group of pre-Christian people. And the Japanese do not have the prejudices of other cultures with regards to religion, since their own is more cultural than related to any heavenly figure. On this particular night, there was more unity than difference, and it was delightful to watch. The two groups are a model for diplomacy. That might just be the ticket – Klezmer diplomacy.