From Conservative Judaism to Orthodoxy in Japan

There is one main bridge to Orthodoxy – whether you live in Tokyo, Mumbai or Sydney –  and its name is….Chabad.

Today I was interviewed by a journalist for a magazine about the unlikelihood of finding my Jewish orthodox roots in Japan.

It’s funny, it even goes without saying these days that when a non-religious, non-practicing Jew turns Orthodox, Chabad is a big part of the story. As you will find out in future posts.

In the Wagamama Bride I reflect upon what it means when a non-practicing Jew raised in the Borsht belt of northern Long Island — Great Neck to be precise — suddenly gets pangs to become religious in a country like Japan — Tokyo to be precise again — where there is not only a lack of Borsht, but a lack of beets, and until the internet came along, a lack of recipes and wisdom and Torah inspiration to entice me to even consider a Jewish life.

This is now, but what was it like 28 years ago when I took my embryonic first steps toward setting foot in a shul? The only thing I thought to do was quantify what I knew, and what I didn’t….

From the Wagamama Bride

The great ancient sage Hillel was once commanded by his Roman interrogator  to sum up the Torah teachings of 12 million ancient Hebrew letters in one short sentence. His reply: ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do to you. The rest is commentary.”

There is so much to read in Torah, to study, to apply in daily life that observant Jews spend their entire lives studying chapter by chapter of the Five Books in an orderly week to week progression throughout the year. Once the annual  cycle is completed in the autumn, the festival of Shavuot is celebrated and the entire Torah is started all over again.

“On a scale of one to ten, where are you on your Torah journey?” Aki asks, because he thinks I know a lot more than I do. I’ve never even considered such a question before, so I pause. I drum my fingers on the tablecloth.

“I am not observant. I don’t read Torah each week, not by a long shot,” I say.. “But alright. I don’t want to give myself one out of ten. I went to hebrew school for six years     at Forest Hills Jewish Center, I had a bat mitzvah in Great Neck at Temple Israel, I have Jewish parents. Okay, I’ll give myself a three.”

Aki bursts out laughing. “A three?”

“I’m just being truthful,” I protest.

We are living in truly miraculous times of instant connection to every singe soul on the planet — and we have to remember that despite the mishugas and outright undeniably outrageous unbelievable scary dysfunction visible in US and British politics at the moment –not to mention the Middle East–I want to believe that being Jewish in Japan has relevancy.  Which brings me back to Chabad and how the Lubavitch inspire me to keep on trucking, keep on smiling, keep on believing that when we get around the bend in this road, something glorious will be waiting for us…

Author: admin

I'm a Tokyo-based artist and writer of a memoir in progress, The Wagamama Bride, based on nearly 30 years of life in Japan. The inspiration for this memoir is rediscovering my Jewish roots in Japan--thanks to Chabad.