B’nai B’rith International has made several connections with Japan via relationship building with Japanese diplomats who have served as representatives in Washington, D.C. or Israel. This relationship brought B’nai B’rith an opportunity to facilitate a mission to Japan to engage young people. This project is called the Kakehashi Project- Japan’s Friendship Ties, and has been designed to help build bridges between Japan and the United States, and strengthen the partnerships between these two countries via visits by schools and organizations.
The organizers of the mission requested young people. We were able to fill our ranks with the leadership of B’nai B’rith’s Young Leadership Network and chapter leaders of Alpha Epsilon Pi, an international Jewish fraternity and a long-standing partner of B’nai B’rith. Japan’s government was especially interested in connecting with the Jewish community in the United States, setting an agenda for a seven-night program for twelve participants. I had the opportunity to serve as the staff liaison, coordinating the application and preparations process and serving as the group leader for the trip.
Each day we were briefed by representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from various roles on the situation in the Middle East, the votes that Japan cast at the United Nations and the relationship it continues to foster with the State of Israel. For these young leaders, we have shown them the respect that these diplomats have had for B’nai B’rith, many because of their interaction with Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, as well as the access that B’nai B’rith can provide. We shared casual conversations over a dinner in our honor, hosted by a member of Parliament.
At each of the official briefings we presented the speaker with a gift from the group, as our thank you for their time with us. We chose the commemorative 170th Anniversary B’nai B’rith International pin (B’nai B’rith was founded in 1843). This gift was our means of sharing our long history and our pride in the role B’nai B’rith has played in civil society and on the international scene.
One goal of the program was to ask participants to think about the perception they had of Japan before the visit, and later report on their feelings after they had immersed themselves in Japanese culture. We went from big cities like Tokyo, to rural mountain areas. We went from hotel beds to futons on tamari mats. We ate Japanese food— fish and rice with consideration of kosher needs with the provision of fresh vegetables. We participated in a “home stay” visit at several farms as guests of families. Many did not speak English, but with phrase books, we were made to feel more than welcome. We decided that the woman of the house was definitely linked to our Jewish mothers, who wanted to make sure we were fed and comfortable. When we left, the guests and hosts both had tears in their eyes when we said goodbye. We also learned that you can get Baskin Robbins ice cream and Krispy Kreme donuts at the mall or a 7-Eleven.
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