By Taylor Schwink
For a week in 2016, I’d wake up, check my email and find it loaded with pictures from the other side of the world. The Japanese government had invited the B'nai B'rith Young Leadership Network to participate in the Kakehashi Project – “Japan’s Friendship Ties.” A group of B’nai B’rith volunteers would be going to build bridges between Japan and the United States. Back at B’nai B’rith International headquarters, I was tasked with posting these marvelous pictures, but not without a smidge of jealousy.
A year later, I was the one taking the pictures. B’nai B’rith was again invited to participate in the Kakehashi Project, and I had the privilege of joining the 12-member delegation from Chicago, Denver, Detroit, New York City, South Florida and Washington D.C., documenting the trip that started in Tokyo, continued on to Hiroshima and Kobe, and returned to Tokyo over the span of a week.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored the trip, and on the first day gave us a crash course in Japanese history and foreign policy. We discussed the famed “Article Nine” of their constitution that renounces “war as a sovereign right of the nation,” troubles with North Korea and views on China.
On the second day, we left behind the boardrooms of the foreign ministry to fly to Hiroshima. The bus from the airport dropped us off in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome, the twisted, surviving structure from America’s bombing of the city on Aug. 6, 1945, hastening the end of World War II.
The entire afternoon was a humbling experience, touring the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park grounds, visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and even speaking with an atomic bomb survivor. The woman we met was a child living on the edge of town and attending school when three B-29 Superfortress bombers flew overhead, one carrying the atomic payload. She described scenes of death and chaos, as no one had any idea what was happening. She thought the sun had fallen out of the sky.
Before leaving on the trip, many people jokingly asked, “Are there Jews in Japan?” When you think of countries with Jewish communities, Japan is certainly not at the top of that list. But there is a small Jewish presence, with two communities located in Tokyo and Kobe. Kobe is a city of immigrants, and the Jews from all parts of the world tie seamlessly into the fabric of a town that comprises every group, from Chinese, Americans and Western Europeans to Indians and Muslims.
In Tokyo, we attended Shabbat services and dinner with a congregation that consisted mostly of American and Canadian expatriates. In a world marred with anti-Semitism, it was fascinating to learn that the Japanese people have no real concept of such discrimination. Throughout the trip, our guides would explain the idea in Japanese for people unfamiliar with
While our Young Leadership delegation toured Japan, the Israeli baseball team was making a run of its own there through the World Baseball Classic. The team won all of its first-round games, setting up a second round date at the Tokyo Dome against Cuba—the same day we were slated to return to America.
Following a friendly and illuminating meeting at the Israeli embassy, we were given tickets to the game, and some delegation members persuaded our guides to rearrange the schedule and reroute the bus. With only hours remaining in the trip, our last stop was to cheer on the Israeli national team—in a game they’d go on to win 4-1. It was an appropriate and exciting end to our trip—one that yielded invaluable knowledge, cultural understanding, friendships, memories—and pictures—to last a lifetime.