JCC Newsletter – Toldot

本音vs 建前 Honne vs Tatemae

With the exception of the enduring centrality of the fax machine, there is little expats enjoy discussing more about Japanese culture than whether the aforementioned concept of separating one’s true feelings and outward behavior represents an insincere façade or, quite the opposite, an essential component in maintaining social harmony. Although I am happy to engage in armchair sociology just as much as the next rabbi, the subject demands a much deeper dive. Thankfully, we at the JCC are blessed with a member who can do exactly that.

Professor Adam Komisarof of Keio University kicks off our Lehrhaus Lectures series with a workshop entitled “Intercultural Communication in Japan” on Thursday, 11/11 at 7:30pm over Zoom. What exactly is a Lehrhaus? I am glad you asked. About a century ago in Weimar-era Frankfurt, the minimally observant German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig zt”l (1886-1929) got tired of hearing rabbis lecture on medicine, law, culture, commerce and any manner of topic outside the scope of their traditional yeshiva education. Wouldn’t it make more sense, Rosenzweig thought, that the doctor speaks on medicine, the attorney on law, the artist on culture, the entrepreneur or banker on commerce and so on?

In 1920, he established the Freie Jüdische Lehrhaus, or Free Jewish House of Learning, removing barriers to Jewish education and challenging students who snickered at rabbinic ignorance of fields they mastered to instead teach a wider audience. The Lehrhaus, which at one point enrolled 1,100 students, ran from 1920-1926 only closing because its founder tragically contracted ALS. Let this be a lesson to Park East Synagogue on the importance of succession planning. (Please reply if you are following the drama. I am starved for people to discuss NYC intracommunal Jewish politics.)

Here in Tokyo, we acknowledge the wisdom in Rosenzweig’s experiment. Our Jewish community is composed of members with more varied experiences and open minds than say the golden ghetto on Long Island where I spent my salad days. We look forward to learning from Professor Komisarof and look forward to the next lecture which will be given by Jerry Rosenberg on the ‘History of the Jews in Japan’ (Date TBD). We would love to hear more voices so consider yourself invited not only to attend but lead by speaking on your field of expertise as well.

Image: Isaac Blessing Jacob by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout in 1642. In the collection of the Met in New York.
The story from this week’s parsha of Jacob pretending to be his brother Esau and Isaac’s going along with the subterfuge is full of 本音and 建前. Unless I misunderstand the concept which I almost certainly do. Call in on Thursday the 11th to find out!


Please join us THIS Shabbat (11/6) for in-person services and Sigd Celebratory Kiddush sponsored by the Seme and Semaya Families. Thank you to Todd Walzer for leyning the full Torah reading and Lea and Micah Epstein for leading services and the Haftarah. Mazal Tov to Todd, Lea and Micah on the anniversary of their B’nai Mitzvot.


Shabbat Parshat Toldot in-person services/B’nai Mitzvah Family Shabbat
Saturday, November 6th
Services: 10:00am – 12:00pm
Kiddush: 12:00pm – 2:00pm

Lehrhaus Lecture Series presented by Professor Adam Komisarof, PhD
Intercultural Communication in Japan: An Opportunity to Be Challenged, An Opportunity to Grow
Thursday, November 11th
Time: 7:30 – 8:30pm
Venue: Zoom
Meeting ID: 84873200282
Passcode: 18

Family Shabbat/Friday Night Dinner in-person at the JCC
Friday, November 12th
Services: 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Dinner: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Please visit https://www.jccjapan.org/shabbat-bento-dinner.html to book your dinner reservations by November 11th at 2pm.

You are not alone! Support group for children of aging parents
Wednesday, November 17th
Time: 5:30pm – 6:30pm
Venue: Zoom
Details to follow in next week’s newsletter

Oneg Shabbat in-person at the JCC
Friday, November 19th
Sponsored by the Sheldon Family in honor of Eli’s Bar Mitzvah
Services: 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Nosh and Refreshments: 7:00pm – 8:00pm

Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach
Bar Mitzvah of Eli Sheldon
Saturday, November 20th
Services: 10:00am – 12:00pm


Thank you to Shari Berman and Tomomi Saito for leading an innovative and leibedik Kabbalat Shabbat last week. An additional thank you to Shari Berman and Tomomi Saito for being the only people to call into our Havdala from home the following night.

We wish our military veteran members a solemn Veterans Day/Armistice Day. May the Guns of August remain silent.

This Sunday (November 7), we’re officially kicking off BBYO programming in Tokyo! BBYO is a global teen leadership organization that is opening in Japan and is open to all Jewish teens. The group will be heading to teamLab: Borderless for a fun day of activities and, of course, tons of great photos. The group will meet at the JCC at 12:30 PM (after Sunday school), head over to teamLab together, and be back later in the afternoon. Admission will be covered by BBYO to the exhibit.

If you/your teen is interested in joining us or if you have any questions, please connect with Rabbi Andrew (rabbi@jccjapan.jp). If you can’t make it this time, more events like this will be offered in the coming months.

The first meeting of the ‘You are not alone! Support group for children of aging parents’, facilitated by Rabbi Andrew, will be held over Zoom on Wednesday, November 17th from 5:30pm – 6:30pm. The event is open to everyone fortunate enough to still have a parent in their lives whether their mother/father are on the other side of the world or just outside the 23 Wards. Through five years spent working on a palliative care interdisciplinary team, I learned how the process tends to go for families financially, logistically and of course emotionally. I hope to help dispel some myths and more importantly hold space for people to share their own experiences.

Rabbi Andrew, Tali and Asher will be away 11/22-1/20. People can stop replying with how excited they are for my absence anytime now…and no, I can’t leave Tali and Asher in Tokyo with you.

In the following weeks and months, we will (maybe?) roll out several new features in the newsletter including a message from the board, featured members, a Japanese column and member recipes. If you would like to volunteer for any of the above, please reply to this e-mail.

Shabbat Parshat Toldot
Candle Lighting: 4:24pm
Havdala: 5:21pm