In March, I was incredibly fortunate for the opportunity to travel and explore Japan with the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network, as we participated in the Kakehashi Project. The Kakehashi Project was created through the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE), designed to build and strengthen ties between the U.S. and Japan. We were provided with a diverse itinerary that gave us a taste – both literally and figuratively – of a country rich in history, yet at the same time, at the forefront of modernization.
Immediately upon arriving in Japan, we were in awe of the beautiful country and culture. It was easy to feel welcomed in a society that places such a high value on respect and honor. No matter where we turned, the warmth of the Japanese people, and the depth of their culture and history embraced us. In Tokyo, we experienced firsthand what life in the largest city by population in the world is like.
Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market, the Tsukiji Market, where we were able to see, smell and taste the freshest sushi. At Ippodo Tea Company, we participated in a tea ceremony, learning how matcha tea is made and given the opportunity to make and taste tea ourselves.
In Kyoto, we explored cultural sites such as Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, a Zen Buddhist temple and the Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine built in the eighth century. One afternoon, we rolled up our sleeves to hand dye handkerchiefs using a centuries-old Japanese technique called Yuzen.
While Japan’s history and culture make it unique, it certainly doesn’t hold it back from keeping up with modern times. From small conveniences in our hotel rooms, to the abundance of vending machines strewn about, it was clear that technology played a large role in day-to-day life. Our travels between Tokyo and Kyoto were via the Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train. A trip that would have taken over six hours by car was a mere two and a half hours thanks to this high speed train. We also had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the offices of Pasona, a career placement company with a dedication to inclusion. Here, we learned why securing jobs for all, especially for those with disabilities, is a priority and how it impacts their overall society.
One of the truly unique opportunities that the Kakehashi Project afforded us was the ability to meet with various government officials. On our first day, we met with representatives from the Japan-Middle East Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We were briefed on Japan’s role in the peace process, and the projects they are supporting in different regions to help further advance peace. Only one day after Women’s International Day, we were invited to the home of Yaffa Ben-Ari, the Israeli ambassador to Japan. She shared with us her personal story of becoming the Israeli ambassador and why Israel-Japan relations are important on the global stage. Kentaro Sanoura, special advisor to the prime minister, took time to meet with us on our last day in Japan. He shared his thoughts on how the relationship between the U.S. and Japan are stronger than ever, and welcomed our questions and thoughts on Japan.
What made this trip so special was the ability to view Japan through a Jewish lens. We celebrated Shabbat at the Jewish Community of Japan, a non-denominational synagogue located in the heart of Tokyo. Even half way around the world, the familiar sounds and songs of Shabbat made us feel right at home. Together we sang Eliyahu HaNavi as Havdallah approached, and engaged in conversation as to what the trip meant to us as young leaders of B’nai B’rith. Throughout the trip, we made many parallels of our own traditions and to those of the Japanese people.
This once in a lifetime opportunity left a lasting impression on me, and my perspectives of Japan. The word “kakehashi” translates to “bridge” in Japanese, but a special type of bridge that connects two important and honored places. I could not think of a more fitting title to name this journey. Words alone could not encompass how thankful I am to the B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network and the Kakehashi Project for this experience. I can’t wait to continue to building strong relations between the U.S. and Japan by sharing my experiences with others.
Laura Hemlock is a native New Yorker and currently works for UJA-Federation of New York as a Senior Donor Center Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Education and a Bachelors in theatre, both obtained from the University at Buffalo. Passionate about all things Jewish and community, Laura is excited to be involved with B'nai B'rith Young Leadership Network. Laura also sits on the Meyerson JCC Manhattan's 20s&30s board.
I had explained how caring about the people of our community and doing things that helped someone could be a profession and something that they and their families can do as volunteers. I also explained why we as Jews care about society because of something we call “tikun olam,” repairing our world.
We recently gave a similar challenge to leaders of B’nai B’rith at the 2016 Leadership Forum, held in Washington, D.C. We assembled a panel of experts who are the chairs and community leaders who deliver community programming year after year. They were given the task to describe in just five minutes their program and provide a take away to provide information on how it is done. The subject matter was diverse and each representative was able to deliver a message from their own heart and experiences and in record time. The time limit was to provide an “elevator speech,” about what can be said to involve people in what we do. The audience in that “elevator” or in your office or living room, is a potential participant, donor or member. If one can describe what a program or mission is all about in this short period, you have done justice to the cause and project you represent.
The content of this workshop was a diverse list of topics. Programs were presented to promote adult learning, provide opportunities for participation in activities such as sports and community service projects. It also described the Holocaust remembrance and awareness program, “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” held on Yom Hashoah. The programming is done each November for the annual observance of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, held in Latin America. They heard about the European Days of Jewish Culture, a vehicle to explore Jewish Culture across Europe. The secret to raising funds through community award dinners (recognizing community leaders and spotlighting B’nai B’rith) was shared. The audience also learned how the lodge and unit structure provides meaningful programming in many communities and how the Young Leadership Network is reaching out to young people with unique opportunities to participant in the B’nai B’rith agenda.
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