Sunday, November 8, 2009

Introduction and Summary of Lisa Sopher's Notes from Interviews Conducted together with S. David Moche About the History of Jewish Life in Kobe, Japan 1936 - 2000

We are S. David Moche and Lisa Sopher. David was born in Kobe in 1950. He is a businessman living in New York City with his wife, Nancy, and two daughters, Elsie and Ma'yan. Lisa is a writer living in New York City with her husband, Jeremy Deutsch, and son, Jake.

Lisa wrote an article about the Jewish community in Kobe, Japan, in July 2006, which ultimately led to a larger project with the help of David in which we interviewed friends and family of Jews who passed through or lived in Kobe, Japan. Our objective was to try to record and trace, through surviving residents of Kobe, the history of the Jewish Community of Kansai and in general, the Jews of Kobe. We were able to talk with residents from as far back as 1930. Lisa wrote an outline of the conversations and a bibliography, which has since lay dormant.

We decided to create this blog in the hopes of engaging anyone with personal information about their (or their family's) life and experiences and history in Kobe to contribute to this effort and to see if we can develop a forum, using this new technology and ability to connect from any corner of the globe, to build the history of the Jews of Kobe. Please feel free to update, edit, correct, or otherwise provide valuable input into this effort. You can add additional documents, your family's own research, photographs (a big plus), and so on. Our hope is that one day we can organize our information together to make a book of some sort.

The starting point is the Jewish Community of Kansai, Congregation Ohel Shelomoh. The synagogue in Kobe was the center of David's life as a boy growing up. It continues to be part of his life as he manages "Friends of Ohel Shelomoh - Jewish Community of Kansai - Inc.," a 501 (c) (3) not for profit corporation established to help the community ( We hope that, in building this network, we can also help fund-raise for the synagogue building and the center - of which the physical structure is deeply in need.

Donations of any amount are very much appreciated and can be made here:

We are pasting the document for your review below. If you have comments, photos, and more, please send us an email at We have chosen this forum as opposed to a Wikipedia-type because we hope it would be very user-friendly. We hope we are right!


Turn of the 20th Century:
The Jewish community in Kobe, Japan—a city that is long and narrow, lying toward the southern end of Japan, on the inland sea between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku, in the Kansai region of Japan—has a very rich history. The city was and continues to be one of Japan’s major ports, but a turning point in Kobe’s history took place when its port opened its doors for trade with the West in 1868. Jewish traders most likely ventured into Kobe for trade purposes during this time, settling in Kobe or in other nearby Japanese cities. In fact, the Jewish cemetery in Yokohama has a grave marked as early as the year 1869.[1]
The original cemetery was near the coastal area (of Kobe?) and was washed off by a typhoon. [2] A cemetery for foreigners was also established on Onohama in 1869, but it became overcrowded. The name Kasugano came from Kasuga-Myojin, which used to be around Kagoike-dori. The Kasugano cemetery was built in 1899.[3] The remains and headstones from the two cemeteries were carried to the Jewish section of the Kobe Municipal Foreign Cemetery after World War II.[4]

During the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, the Jewish community of Nagasaki, which had been quite active, disintegrated. The community passed on its Torah scroll to the Jews of Kobe, which at the time consisted of a group of Jewish soldiers and recently freed prisoners of war who had participated in the czar’s army and the Russian revolution of 1905.[5] During the early to middle 1900s, the Kobe community was composed largely of Jews from Russia, the Middle East, and Germany. In most cases, the Russian Jews had arrived in Japan via the Manchurian city of Harbin, which had three synagogues, a Jewish school and a population of about 30,000 Jews. The Middle Eastern Jews, known as "Baghdadi Jews," originally came to Kobe from present-day Iraq and Syria, as well as from Yemen, Iran and other areas in Central Asia and the Middle East. Other Jews came to Japan from Central and Eastern Europe, and particularly from Germany.[6]

The Nineteen-Teens to the 1920s:
In the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Jews of Yokohama and Kobe offered significant help to thousands of Jewish refugees with the cooperation of the Japanese government. Many of these refugees had been unable to land in Japan because they lacked the necessary funds. This problem was resolved through the help of Jacob Schiff, the leader of the New York banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb, and Company, and the then president of the American Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). Since Schiff had given Japan important financial assistance during the Russo-Japanese War, his request to make Yokohama and Kobe transit centers for the refugees was quickly accepted.[7]

In 1918, Boris Sidline, father of George and Alex Sidline came to Japan. He fled the Bolshevik Revolution and opened up an import/export business, as well as a grocery store, in Japan. His wife Fania originally came from Lithuania, and then moved to Harbin, China; then to Shanghai, and then to Japan. The couple got married in Kobe in 1928.[8]

In 1919, Sam Evans (formerly Evanskoffsky) came to Kobe, picking up a job with a ship-chandlering company during a one-day stopover of the ship on which he had planned to travel to America. Sam had become the honorary president of Kobe’s Jewish community since the day of its founding (when?)[9] He was the only foreigner people knew who had Japanese citizenship.[10]

Between 1920 and 1921, a Jewish traveler named Israel Cohen visited Kobe. He was welcomed by a man named Walter Buechler, the son of Dr. Adolf Buechler, the principal of Jews’ College. There was no organized Jewish community in Kobe, but there were 200 Jews—half of them from England, America, and Baghdad, having businesses of their own or representing foreign firms, and the other half fugitives from Russia, waiting either to return after the Bolshevik revolution was over or to cross the Pacific and go to America. The recognized head of the Russian group was a Mr. Yabroff. The Russians had a little club for socializing and entertainment. Cohen also met two brothers from London named Goldman. Cohen also met a few Jews who were married to Japanese wives. They were socially ostracized from the Jewish community, which deterred others from following suit.

Mr. Yabroff brought Cohen to a synagogue on Friday night. The synagogue was really a Jewish place of worship in someone’s house. The place was plainly furnished with a simple ark and a reading desk made by a local carpenter. On the walls were Zionist flags. Cohen addressed the group in order to encourage them to contribute to the Zionist cause, and it was formally resolved that a Zionist Society would be formed. [11]

In 1923, the great Kanto earthquake destroyed most of Tokyo and had a major effect on Jewish life in Japan as well. Until that time the most active Jewish community in Japan was in Yokohama. Following the earthquake, some of those Jews moved to Kobe, which then had about 50 families.[12] One of the people who moved to Kobe from Yokohama at this time was Louie Jedeikin. He had originally come from Riga and then Moscow. He didn’t want to be drafted into the czar’s army, so he fled. In Vlodovistok, he met his future wife, Vera Bidger, whose family was in the watch business. They went to live in Yokohama, but Vera was buried in the earthquake of 1923. Louie moved to Kobe and brought Vera’s father and aunt and uncle to Kobe, where they continued the family business.[13]

The Sephardim and Ashkenazim in Kobe founded separate synagogues (perhaps minyanim in separate houses?), but both groups cooperated in maintaining contacts with other Far Eastern Jewish refugee communities, mainly in Shanghai and throughout Manchuria.[14]

In 1927, Edward Sherbanee, who later changed his last name to Shawn, came to Kobe from Baghdad, at the age of 18. He opened an office dealing in textiles, wheat from India, dates from Iraq and toys. Mostly single men were in Kobe then.[15]

The 1930s:
Louie Jedeikin’s nephew, Abe Gercik, moved to Kobe in 1930. Louie went to live in Switzerland to manage the watch business. He got married in 1940 and moved his family from Riga to Shanghai during World War II.
Japan invaded China in 1931, calling the occupied territory Manchuria, including the Jewish populations in Harbin, Mukden, and Hailar.[16] In Harbin, the alliance between the Japanese occupying army and White Russian fascists coerced Jewish property owners to sell to Japanese interests.[17] The invasion created significant changes for Jews. There were a series of kidnapping and murders by gangs of Chinese criminals linked to the Japanese secret police and White Russian fascists. The Jews began to leave Harbin at that time.[18]

In an article featuring Kobe resident Victor Kelly, it is said that a congregation and the Jewish community was started in 1931 at Kitaoka House in the Yamamoto Dori district of Kobe. By 1939 the congregation was predominantly Sephardi and the synagogue moved to a new location. And another space was rented in early 1941 to accommodate the onslaught of new Ashkenazi refugees arriving from Eastern Europe.[19]

Around 1932 or 1933, Sasson Fattal arrived in Japan from Iraq. He was around 32 or 33 years old. His family was in the textile business in Baghdad (the name Fattal means weaver in Arabic). He and his brothers imported textiles from different countries. Sass, as he was known, got his allowance to start his part of the business in Japan, where the supply of goods was cheap. He went to Tokyo in 1948 and came back to Kobe from 1956 to 1971. [20]

Ezra Choueke came to Japan in 1935 from Aleppo, Syria via Lebanon, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. He worked in textiles. He went to Syria to marry his wife, Lucy and came back to Kobe in 1936.[21]

Eliza Mattuck came to Kobe in 1935, at the age of 18, from Bombay with her family. Her father was Ezra Zion Mattuck, who was involved in importing and exporting. His son Victor was 16. They came on a ship that took a month of travel time, stopping at all ports—Singapore, Shanghai, Pinang, Hong Kong, and then Kobe. Eliza was seasick the whole time. Her brothers and sisters ate fish and vegetables on the ship. A company owned by Mr. Musri ordered kosher chickens for them. Eliza got married to Edward Sherbanee in 1937 in the Oriental Hotel. A rabbi came in from Shanghai to officiate.

There were very few Ashkenazim who came to the synagogue. The Ashkenazim joined the Sephardim for High Holidays. There was an Ashkenazi man named Mr. Wiezel who was a shochet for the Sherbanee family.[22]

There was a man called Rabbi Jacob who was the mohel and the shochet for the Ashkenazim, but he wasn’t really a rabbi. He taught bar mitzvah lessons. There was no kosher food, but Rabbi Jacob killed some chickens.[23] Mr. Kohlberg led the Ashkenazi congregation,[24] which was behind his house, across the street from Mrs. Leigh’s house. Kohlberg was on the synagogue’s board.[25] A Mr. Hocheimer was active at the synagogue, and Boris Sidline was able to read Hebrew and get an aliyah.[26] Zack Antaki had a Sephardic minyan in his home.[27]

Rahmo Sassoon came to Japan in March 1936, when he was around 24 years old. He came with Rahmo Shayo from Aleppo. He was a bachelor and went there on a business trip. They were representatives of a big Italian firm of weavers. He liked it there; business was good, and he decided to stay. The white man/foreigner was treated as an Englishman – eigoshito – white man. They respected foreigners. Rahmo’s brother-in-law, Alfred Shoha, was already in Kobe when he arrived. He was a buyer for a big Manchester import/export firm. Rahmo Sassoon said that the Ashkenazi community was larger when he came to Kobe and that the Ashkenazim had their own synagogue. [28]

In 1936, Isaac Djemal arrived in Kobe at 24 years old. He was based in Kobe until 1938, trading textiles then moved to Shanghai until 1941, and then lived in Thailand. He was a partner with his brothers who lived in Syria and Lebanon. He was called chotin – an associate – in Japanese.[29]

Zinowy Dinaberg came to Kobe in 1936 because he had lost his business in Harbin. He started a textile business in Kobe.

Victor Moche was sent to Kobe from Baghdad in 1936 when he was working for Simon Hai Simon, a textile concern. He later became an agent for Norman Sayek, a textile trading company based in Manchester. Moche became a leader in the Jewish community of Kobe, reading the Torah and chanting prayers.

Esther Goldman arrived in Japan in 1937. She had married Nissim Tawil in Aleppo in 1936. He exported textiles and also became the rabbi and chazzan of the Sephardic synagogue. He performed a few marriages, like Morad Atieh and Berkovich. There was no synagogue in Kobe when they arrived (this conflicts with the article about 1931), so Nissim put an ad in the paper that they were going to make one for both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Before that, people prayed in houses.[30]

Rahmo Sassoon said that Zack Antaki established the Sephardic community, and Nissim Tawil was the chazzan in shul. They only prayed together on High Holidays and some Shabbatot. A shochet from the Ashkenazim killed a lamb in their garden.[31]

Before World War II, according to Jack Choueke, Jews lived in community houses in Kobe—bachelors and married people. Jack’s grandmother lived with them.

In 1937, Anatole Ponevejsky (later Ponve) arrived in Kobe, coming from Yokohama, and before that Harbin and Siberia. He founded the Ashkenazi Jewish community of 25 families in Kobe and oversaw its community center—a cluster of rooms in a narrow lane at the foot of the steep hills.[32] He rented a building on Yamamoto-Dori Street that housed a synagogue and Jewish community center, and in 1940 and 1941 refugee relief offices.[33]

According to Leo Hanin, for the purposes of telegraphing, the (Ashkenazi) Jewish community of Kobe became known as Jewcom, and from 1938 to 1939 they were only having prayers during the High Holidays. They played cards, and the girls played mah-jongg upstairs. They used the place as a club until they started getting telegrams from Lithuania.[34]

According to Tamara Rozanksy, Ponevejsky’s daughter, there was an earthquake in the late 1930s that damaged the synagogue.

In 1939, Rahmo Sassoon put the words Ohel Shelomoh on the door of the Sephardic synagogue, which was in a building that Rahmo rented. Three or four months later, Mr. Hocheimer came to Rahmo and told him to take down the sign since Japan had made a pact with Germany the previous year. He took it down, but 5-6 days later a policeman came and said to put it back up because this was not Nazi Germany. When Rahmo opened the synagogue, they had a Sefer Torah from the Antaki synagogue.[35]

Relations between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities were cool, but the Ashkenazim nevertheless attended the Sepharadi synagogue on the Sukkot festival to offer the blessing of the Four Species. After doing so, they returned to their own synagogue to pray. The Four Species were brought each year to Japan from Shanghai on the eve of the festival.[36]

Maurice Wahba came to Japan from Egypt in 1939. He remembered Elia Mizrahi, Moche Nissim, Victor Moche, and Shaul Moche, Nissim Tawil, Victor Kelly (Bashi), Ezra Choueke, Rahmo Sassoon, Gabby Josue, Ezra Zion Mattuck, Udalevitch, Paley, Solomon, Rubin — some 30 families in all. There were Ashkenazim, but most were Sepharadi.[37]

Also in 1939, Violet Simon got married to Sass Fattal and lived in Japan until 1946. When her son was born, they had to send for a mohel from Shanghai for the bris. They had the bris when he was 6 weeks old because the baby was born in March and the mohel didn’t want to leave Shanghai around Passover-time because he needed to make a profit from selling kosher wine. Another mohel came in and taught the Japanese how to slaughter a chicken. She remembers going to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.[38]

World War II: In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Jewish refugees were unable to board Italian or Japanese ships en route from Italy to Shanghai or Japan. With the passage from the Mediterranean effectively blocked, the only escape route east was through the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway bound for Vladivostok. This route remained open until the German invasion of Russia in June 1941. More than 10,000 Jews, fleeing for their lives, were able to enter neutral Lithuania from Poland between October 1939 and May 1940. Among them were nearly 5,000 who successfully made their way to Japan.

The refugees were granted passage through the help of the Dutch Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, Jan Zwartendijk. The Consul offered the refugees misleading landing permits and transit visas to Curacao in the Dutch West Indies. They were also assisted by Chiune Sugihara, the first representative of the Japanese consulate in Lithuania, who had arrived to take up his position in August 1939. Sugihara ignored instructions from his own government, going on to issue several thousand passports with a Japanese 8-to-12-day transit visa. He may have saved 10,000 lives. Both Zwartendijk and Sugihara were later honored by Yad Vashem in Israel as Righteous Gentiles.

In late 1940, after the Soviet takeover of Russia, the government ordered all refugees to declare Soviet citizenship or face exile to Siberia as “unreliable elements.” Hundreds of Jewish refugees applied for Soviet exit visas. It remains unknown why the Soviets allowed refugees with Polish travel papers, many of dubious validity, to leave. The Trans-Siberian train left Moscow twice a week.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (aka the Joint) had the onerous task of choosing a limited number of refugees whom they could help by underwriting all or part of the $200 cost of an Intourist ticket for the train to Vladivostok. The Soviets confiscated currency and other valuables before the refugees boarded Japanese steamers, so when the refugees arrived in Japan, most were destitute and lacking documents enabling them to proceed. With the consent of the Japanese authorities, a representative of the Jewish community in Kobe met the refugees at Tsuruga and accompanied them on the train to Kobe. Using funds from the Joint, the community, led by Ponovejsky, set up group homes, arranged for housing and food, and interceded on behalf of the refugees in dealing with local officials.[39]

The Soviet Union ordered all consulates closed by August 25, 1940, so Zwartendijk and Sugihara aided approximately 2,100 mostly Polish Jews to escape eastward across the USSR to Japan. The two consulates never met each other. Zwartendijk consciously omitted the key fact that entry was contingent upon the territories’ governors approving each immigrant on a case-by-case basis, something that was rarely done. But on the basis of these destination “visas,” the refugees obtained 10-day transit visas to Japan from Sugihara.[40]

A number of religious Jews had smuggled themselves out of Poland into Lithuania. Then Jewcom started getting telegraphs asking if it could guarantee their transit visas to Japan. For that, Jewcom had to turn to the police. Hanin remembers that one-day Ponevejsky asked him to be secretary of Jewcom because he was the only guy who could write and speak English, aside from other languages.

In June 1940, the Ashkenazi Jewish community received a cable from Lithuania asking for the community to write a letter to the Japanese government guaranteeing support for seven people while they were in transit through to Japan. Ponevejsky wrote and submitted a letter, then two days later he got another request and then more. Between 1940 and 1941, he was presented with over 2,000 Polish refugees. Ponevejsky, along with his brother-in-law Moise Moiseeff and Leo Hanin, called a meeting of the 25 member families of the community, and they coordinated a massive refugee effort and successfully persuaded Japanese authorities to extend the stay of refugees in Kobe.

Committees were put together to cope with immigration procedures, temporary housing, local travel, onward travel, visa problems and so on. A request was made to the Joint in New York. The reply read simply, “Save Jews Money No Object.” Jewcom sent money for ship fares to refugees who were stranded in Vladivostok. When the money ran low, they appealed to the Joint. By mid-July 1940, Jewcom’s housing committee rented a number of small buildings in the neighborhood and provided them for free to the refugees. The Joint paid the bills by transferring money through American banks to Jewcom.[41]

The standard Japanese visa was only good for 21 days, which made Jewcom’s problems more difficult. Jewcom turned to Setzuso Kotsuji for help when faced with all these refugees who had no immediate prospects for securing an end visa in the U.S. or elsewhere. Kotsuji was a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies who came from an aristocratic Japanese family and utilized his friendship with Japan's Foreign Affairs minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, to help the refugees. When top-ranking members of Kobe's police force opposed the extension of their visas, Kotsuji bribed them with vast sums of money, which he borrowed from his wealthy brother-in-law, and repaid himself. The Japanese authorities agreed to extend the visas several times, letting them stay for eight months instead of the original two-week period. Later, when the Japanese decided to banish the Jews from Japan, they did not expel them completely but instead deported them to Shanghai, China, which was under Japanese rule.[42]

Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes, a refugee, befriended Kotsuji. Both were chosen to represent Jewcom to the Japanese government representatives in Tokyo to discuss their plight and plea to stay in Japan until another place of refuge could be found.

Kotsuji said that the Jewish community in Kobe knew him from his work in Manchuria, especially his speech in Hebrew before the Far Eastern Congress. When he went to Matsuoka about the visas, Matsuoka said the local prefectural government in Kobe could extend the visas and the central government in Tokyo will look the other way. Kotsuji told Ponevejsky the news. The refugees had been sleeping on borrowed mattresses on floors, eating what they could and spending most of their time on the street in front of the Jewish Community Center, where their European faces and long black beards stood out vividly in the Oriental city. The visas were granted. The police were very cooperative, allowing the refugees to open a Talmud Torah there.[43]

Jewcom got most of its financial support from the Joint and the HICEM (an international Jewish organization, founded in 1927 to deal with Jewish migration) in the U.S. to secure food, clothing, housing and medical care for the refugees. Some money for relief work was raised among Kobe’s Jews in the early stages, as well as during the last months of the refugees’ stay in Japan. A Mr. Gerechter said that funds were also raised from Kobe’s Sephardic community. Agudath Israel and Vaad Hatzalah helped the 440 rabbis and students who comprised ¼ of the Polish-Jewish refugees.[44]

Rahmo Sassoon and Nissim Tawil were members of a committee from the Sephardic community to help the refugees. They had an office to receive complaints from the refugees, and they received money from the UJA to help them.[45]

Jewcom was characterized by Ponevejsky as the only officially recognized Jewish body in Japan. There were some Jews who came from Germany and left, but Ponevejsky didn’t really consider them refugees. The Polish Jews who came in were destitute and didn’t have their papers in order. Jewcom’s vice president Moise Moiseeff said that the Jewish community met the refugees at their makeshift boats and arranged for their care in Kobe. This representative was so thoroughly recognized by the Japanese government that even American Jews who came to Kobe couldn’t land without the consent of the community’s representative. Alex Treguboff, a former member of Jewcom, used to be one of these representatives. He would advise the refugees to state that Curacao was their destination. Their papers were obviously false and the Japanese pretended not to notice.[46]

Leo Hanin remembered going to greet the refugees as they came off ships, and they secretly told him that their visas were false and they were worried about getting caught, but he told them not to worry because he knew the Japanese would let them through.[47]

There was a funny story about a cable that came to Jewcom from rabbis in Lithuania. Leo Hanin translated the Hebrew, which said, “Six persons may pray under one prayer shawl.” Hanin was confused and he turned to the Amshenower rebbe, Rabbi Kalish, and asked what this meant. He said it means – six people can travel as one. The rabbi who wrote the cable was concerned about the other refugees who were having trouble traveling and he heard that Japanese visas in Kovno were issued to families and he was suggesting that six strangers should get together as a family.[48]

Jewcom changed regular houses and hotels into dormitories for the refugees. They were always crowded. Each person was given 1.5 yen per day (25 cents), which was reduced to 1.2 yen (21 cents in July of 1941) because of U.S. currency restrictions. This afforded them a minimal diet of fruits, vegetables, fish and bread. The Japanese gave the Jews lots of flour, and matzot were imported from the U.S. for Passover. Close to 800 refugees were treated by a nurse and doctor provided for by Jewcom.[49]

At Jewcom, the front gate had a bulletin board where notices of accepted visa applications and other important items of news were posted.[50] Jewcom was successful because it nurtured relations with Japanese officials. It maintained close relations with all the local authorities, including the Tsuruga water police, who inspected the papers of arriving refugees and decided whether to accept them or send them back to Vladivostok. [51]

According to Zorach Warhaftig, a Polish refugee and lawyer who arrived in Kobe in October 1940, the entire Ashkenazi community of Kobe — 30 families — was transformed into a refugee committee, and the local synagogue and other community facilities were turned into a refugee center. The small Sephardic congregation showed little interest and did not cooperate with the refugee committee. He said that the 30 families who were members of the Ashkenazi Jewish community had escaped from Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, and there was a small Oriental Jewish community whose members hailed from Baghdad, Basra, and Teheran. All were engaged in the import-export business. There was a small synagogue, a mikveh, a shochet, and a mohel. Relations between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities were cool. Since most of the Jews had come from Russia, they were on the whole Zionists. In the Jews’ isolation, the small community became a big family. The arrival of Jewish refugees brought a new vitality to the community. The locals’ sense of Jewish identity remained strong, and the refugees were welcomed with open arms.[52]

Warhaftig had heard that you could write Curacao as a destination on your visa without needing a stamp, so he told all the yeshivot to do this. Besides the Mir yeshiva, the Telsha and Longa Yeshivot used these to get from Poland to Lithuania. Warhaftig spoke to Russia’s secret police, the NKVD, to get them to use the trans-Siberian railroad to get to Japan. After arriving in Japan, Kotsuji helped him in dealing with the Japanese authorities, although Warhaftig claims that Kotzuji didn’t have to intercede on behalf of the refugees who traveled with him.

Warhaftig moved to Tokyo but twice a week he went by train to visit the refugees in Kobe. He was able to help hundreds of refugees get transit visas by guaranteeing the Japanese Embassy in Moscow that the Palestine Committee, of which he was the head, had firm destination visas waiting for them in Japan. The Japanese branch of the Palestine Committee really consisted only of Warhaftig and two assistants. Eventually moving to Israel, Warhaftig was one of the 37 people to sign Israel’s Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the Knesset and founded the National Religious Party in Israel.[53]

In 1940, Isaac Goldman, brother of Esther Goldman, came to Kobe from Aleppo, Syria. He worked with and lived with his brother-in-law Nissim Tawil. When he got there, there was an Ashkenazi and Sephardi minyan in two different houses. The Sephardi one was between Tor Road and Yamamoto-dori. The Ashkenazi one was further down, around the corner. He thinks Edward Sherbanee and Ezra Mattuck brought the Sefer Torah. The brother-in-law of Mattuck was a shochet. The Ashkenazi minyan had an actual rabbi.[54]

About 500 of the Jewish refugees that came in during this time were students, rabbis, and families from the Mir Yeshiva, the only European institute of Talmudic learning to remain intact throughout the Holocaust. The refugees lived peacefully in Japan for some three to eight months, beginning in the winter of 1940-41. There was a dispute about the Jewish calendar times in Kobe because Japan was close to the international dateline, and they actually kept two straight days of Yom Kippur, as well as 2 days of Shabbat. The Joint Distribution Committee contributed $5,000 for the sea passage of Mirrer yeshiva students from Vladivostok to Japan, but had Orthodox activists and rabbis not collected the remaining $45,000 on Shabbat, most of those students would have been stranded without a penny.[55]

Another group of around 40 refugees that went through Kobe was Lubavitchers from Yeshivat Tomchei Tmimim. They were in Kobe for about seven months and then went on to Shanghai and later Montreal and New York.
Warhaftig writes that a Rabbi H. Blumenkranz established a beit midrash in Kobe while he waited to go to Israel.[56] David Kranzler also mentions a beit midrash that was set up, although he doesn’t say by whom.

Kranzler said Mr. Osakabe, a former interpreter for Ambassador Oshima in Berlin, investigated what was going on in the beit midrash, and he came back with a favorable report. [57]According to Rahmo Sassoon, Osakabe lived in one of the Sassoon apartments for free because he was good to the Jewish community during the war. [58] One example of his kindness is when Isaac Goldman and the Ashkenazi rabbi went to a farm and bought a goat and tried to slaughter it. Osakabe came over to the house with his flashlight and he saw blood. He took Isaac to the police station and Nissim Tawil came to get him later on, and he talked to Osakabe and gave him a bottle of whiskey, and he let him go. Isaac was 18. They confiscated Isaac’s knives.[59]

Leo Hanin told Tokayer (quoted in Kranzler) that articles appeared in Japanese papers with photographs of these people wearing kapotes, yarmulkas, beards, peyes, etc., and the article described them as refugees from the war in Europe, and the attitude of most of the Japanese was Kawaisoy – they felt sorry for them. Even though there were rations in Japan, shopkeepers gave refugees some of their rare commodities. And the authorities would ask Jewcom how many refugees were there on a weekly basis, and a truck would pull up every evening with loaves of bread for each of them.[60]

According to Warhaftig, the sight of so many Jews with sidelocks and beards was new to the Japanese, as was their way of life and mode of worship during the week and on Shabbat.[61]

Masha Leon came from Warsaw and says she was on the boat with the Mir Yeshiva to Kobe. The group of people she was with were all secular Yiddishists, such as Yosef Mlotek. Her boat left in February of 1941. She stayed at hotel Normandy in Kobe. Twice a week they went to Jewcom to get bread, mail, news and clothing. They lived in a house against the mountains on the edge of Kobe, many of the non-Japanese were there. The house belonged to a czar general who believed the czar was coming back. Yosef Mlotek was one of the people they lived with. They went to the Japanese public baths. She played with kids from school who were half-Japanese, half-German – Nazi children, but no one paid attention to it. After Japan, she ended up in Canada. They weren’t allowed to say that the Japanese were good to them for the 4 years afterward. She befriended a girl who was Japanese and had been in the internment camps in America. As a refugee you’re always new so she related to her. Masha was ostracized for being friends with a Japanese person. It was such an amazing time - she spoke Yiddish and sang Yiddish songs. Learned English and French - first English book she had was Little Baby Jesus. She went to the Takarazuka - all women’s show - like Radio City Music Hall in Japan.[62]

Susan Bluman, a refugee, said that they were allowed to send postcards and parcels to their families since Germany and Japan were allied. They bought sausage, rice sausage, tea and coffee to send. (We have a copy of her transit visa and passport photo; we also have a photo of her and her husband at a Seder in Kobe).[63]

Rahmo Sassoon remembers being a part of an international committee for foreigners. Distribution went from bad to worse. They were nominated to receive refugees and then they went to Shanghai. He and Nissim Tawil were members of the committee. They got money from the UJA in NY. They also had Ashkenazim from China from before the war who were doing business in Japan.[64]

Esther Tawil said Nissim Tawil took responsibility for the refugees. (Her brother Isaac said he was their guarantor.) The Japanese were going to send them back because they looked different with their beards and tzitzit, but Nissim said they’re like us. On Passover, the refugees got trucks full of potatoes because they wouldn’t eat rice.[65] According to Isaac Goldman, Nissim Tawil got towels and soap for the refugees. He told the government that he was responsible for them[66]

There’s a story of a group of yeshiva students who went to a department store, to the top floor, to pray in the roof garden. It was illegal to go there because it was overlooking a military port. The Japanese elevator attendant reported what the Jews were doing, and they were concerned about the boxes on their heads and hands that they thought might be cameras – it was tefillin. An interpreter explained it, and they said it’s ok, just pray on a lower floor.[67]

A lot of Jews who lived in Kobe remembered meeting Shaul Eisenberg, a refugee from German who later went on to become very wealthy. He owned the Zim shipping line, whose many employees from Israel often stayed in Kobe for a few years. Maurice Wahba remembered being on the same steamer cabin as Eisenberg between Shanghai and Kobe. Eisenberg was not yet 21, he had barely any money on him, and didn’t know where he was going. Maurice invited him to stay with the Jewish community. He said he painted portraits so he painted pictures of Maurice’s parents for him as a gift. Wahba said Eisenberg married a non-Jewish woman and converted her to Judaism. She was related to Mitsubishi and he made a lot of money through Mitsubishi. Later, he ended up in Israel with $1.5 billion.[68]

Rahmo Sassoon remembers Eisenberg coming to the community center needing a room. Then Eisenberg moved to Tokyo and paid for the rabbi there. Whenever he needed money, he asked Rahmo.[69] Eisenberg painted Sass Fattal’s house. He made his money by buying excess scrap metal from the war. He had good relations with the Japanese army generals – he’d pay them for the scrap and sold it to the U.S.[70]

Eisenberg arrived from Berlin via Belgium when he was around 15 or 16, he was very resourceful. He started to work as soon as he set foot on the ground. Wheeling and dealing. During the war he was in Tokyo. He was big physically. His father-in-law was a Viennese artist who had come to Japan before WWI, commissioned to do portraits of the emperor. He married a Japanese woman. Shaul rented a room in his house in Tokyo and fell in love with the daughter. Shaul’s wife lives in Israel.[71] Eisenberg described his escape from Germany and how he evaded authorities by sleeping in graveyards until he embarked first for Shanghai and then Kobe. And, Rabbi David Bagley of Toronto received a visa from Sugihara and recalled that Eisenberg, who was then turning 20, had become the heart and soul of the effort by the Kobe Jews to support their thousands of fellow refugees.[72]

Ellie Elbaum came to Kobe from Harbin, Manchuria, in 1940. Her parents had gone to Harbin from Russia through the Trans-Siberian railroad, via Vladivostok. Living there became difficult under Japanese occupation, so they went to Kobe in 1940. Elbaum remembers that there was a ship that arrived in Japan seaside. They were met by members of the community. There was a train they had to take to Kobe – a 12-hour ride, perhaps. They arrived on Friday and there would be no time before Shabbat started. They debated what to do, and finally one of Kobe’s community members said that it’s pikuach nefesh [for the sake of saving a life], so they traveled and got them.[73]

In June of 1941, Jews in Baghdad experienced the Farhud, pogroms. Many Jews were killed, businesses were looted and houses were destroyed. Shaul Moshi, who came to Japan in 1949 experienced the Farhud, as did Katie Wahba. In July of 1941, there was a U.S. embargo on Japan. Japan prepared for war in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Police cleared the military port of Kobe.[74] The refugees didn’t realize that the Japanese were preparing for war, and despite rations, they still treated the refugees very well.[75] According to Izumi Sato, there was an order by the Japanese government for the refugees to leave mainland Japan by August 1941.[76]

On August 2, 1941, Maurice Wahba was on a ship going to Shanghai and there were 2,000 refugees from Europe on it, and rabbis were leading Jews in dancing. The Japanese immigration official called out – all Jews on this side – and Maurice stood up and then realized that he meant refugees, not him. He was still Egyptian with a passport and a nationality, although later he’d be considered stateless. Maurice got married to Katie in 1945 in India, but it took a year to get her into Japan because she didn’t have a passport. The International Red Cross finally let her go.[77]

By September 1941, all 1,100 Kobe refugees who were unsuccessful in retaining destination visas were relocated to Shanghai. Kobe Jewcom reverted to being simply the Kobe Jewish community, and as Leo Hanin described it, their activities became “90% gin-rummy and 10% social gathering.” But as Japan approached Pearl Harbor, it increasingly restricted the kind of international trade from which the Jews of Kobe made their living. The size of the community decreased.[78] On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed. The date was December 8 in Japan.

Rahmo Sassoon remembers going to clubs during the war – the KRAC (the Kobe Regatta and Athletic Club) and the Shoya Club in the summertime. People had their political restrictions, but Arthur Baer, who was the president of the club and German, said to forget the restrictions – we’re all internationals, enjoy yourself. Rahmo also remembers having rations during the war. They were allowed to kill animals every month. From the black market he got cigars and a lot of whiskey. He entertained a lot during the war. They bought their house in 1941. Rahmo also remembers Jack Choueke getting a brit milah in 1942 (but Jack says he was circumcised when he was 6).[79]

During the bombings, Nissim Tawil asked Osakabe for a place of refuge, and he told him to go to Bunkamura. Twenty families went to this resort village with no police protection or telephone. They had a minyan every Friday night. Tawil carried Ezra Choueke’s mother on his back during the bombing in Kobe. There was no minyan in Kobe because they took the Sefer Torah.[80]

Around 1942/3 Victor Kelly got married to Bella Dinaburg (Ellie Elbaum’s older sister). They had no children and got divorced.[81] Ellie Elbaum and her family went to Karuizawa (a town in the Nagano Prefecture, on the island of Honshu, like Kobe) in 1943, and returned to Kobe in 1946 until 1952. There were extensive bombings in Kobe while she was away. Refugees who were there for under a year all left for Shanghai. During the war, women baked matzah. Once the foreigners started leaving because of the war, the Japanese government confiscated their homes and used them for merchant marine sailor and rented them to the community to house refugees.[82] Sam Evans also spent the war years in Karuisawa. Then he returned to Kobe where he was once again the honorary president of the Jewish community of Kobe. He died there in 1975.[83]
June 5, 1944 was the day that half of Kobe was wiped out – 70,000 people dead. Isaac Goldman could smell the stench of dead people on the street. It took a month to clear them. Goldman had come back to Kobe every week to get his rations. His mother died in 1945 in Japan. She’s buried there. Her name is Kaden Goldman. His house in Kobe burnt down. He, Nissim Tawil and Victor Moche led prayers during and after the war.[84]

According to George Sidline, there were three major bombings in Kobe: Feb. 4, 1945; March 19, 1945; and June 5, which destroyed his house and his father’s store. The Sidlines survived on the generosity of others and left in 1945.[85]
A lot of Jews from Kobe went to Arima (near Bunkamura) during the war, including Jack Choueke’s parents, the Sassoons, the Fattals and the Mattucks. Catholic priests had built cottages there and during the war they left and the Jews moved in. A lot of Jewish GIs came to Kobe during the war and Victor Mattuck invited them over for Jewish holidays years later.[86]

Sass Fattal went to Arima with his family during the war. Their bank accounts were frozen. Foreigners were allowed limited access to funds to buy some provisions like butter or oil from the city and go back to the mountains. Sass got some chicken and vegetables.[87] Bunkamura was full of houses in the mountains – an open area where the kids played. Sass Fattal had chickens so they could have eggs. They were given a stipend – a ration – by the Japanese government. Sass went to the farmers nearby to get food – that was illegal. There was a blackmarket too. They were all starving from 1944 to 1945. The farmers needed money, and the Jews needed food. They wouldn’t have survived another winter from starvation if the war hadn’t ended when it did.[88]

Victor Moche was able to procure food and supplies for the Jewish community during the war thanks to his proficiency in the Japanese language.

Eliza and Edward Sherbanee (later Shawn) rented a bungalow in Bunkamura during the bombings in Kobe. Their house and Edward’s warehouse had burnt down. There were about 14 houses there in Bunkamura. They used to be for the English and Americans who came for summer holidays. It was like a resort. Then Eliza’s mother’s (Mrs. Mattuck) house in Kobe was bombed too, so she moved there too.

All the 14 houses were filled by Kobe Jews, including Lucy Choueke, Nissim Tawil, Victor Moche, Eliah Mizrahi (now they’re in Panama) and Sass Fattal. Just before the war broke out, Eliza Shawn was in a house in Bunkamura, which was bigger than all the other houses. It had two bedrooms. Her husband opened the board of the floor from the living room and dug about four feet with Sass Fattal, and they put a trunk in there with each of the families’ clothing, in case something happened like a bomb. They put sugar and oil in there too. They were about to cover it up, but the war was over, so they didn’t get to cover it. They took it out. It was very scary. They didn’t have a proper shelter – just one big tree that everyone went under when the siren was going.

Edward Shawn spoke fluent Japanese, and when they were in Bunkamura, the district police gave him a radio so that he can hear when there’s a siren because a lot of them couldn’t speak Japanese so well and he could understand what the Japanese were saying if they had to put dark curtains on windows and lower lights for a blackout – they would come around and check. There was one family that had their lights showing and the police came in the middle of the night and the police were going to take him to prison. Her husband told them he doesn’t know Japanese and he’ll take care of him, so that’s when the policeman gave him the radio. They gave him a megaphone to tell everyone what to do.

Eliza Shawn says, in Bukhamura on Rosh Hashanah, they asked for extra sugar and rice and they gave it to them for the holiday. The Japanese were very good to them. For Passover, they asked for flour to make matzah, and they said yes. You couldn’t get any kosher meat. They only ate fish. They had a fish ration. All the men used to go down by train to Kobe to get the rations during the war. It was very scary because they were bombing the trains. They gave them a half a pound of sugar for a month, some rice and some bread. The bread was very funny because they cut it and worms came out. They took out all the worms and toasted the bread in the oven. They bought in the black market sweet potatoes from the farm. It became so tense that the sellers didn’t want any money – they wanted clothing. Their money in the bank was frozen. They only got 100 yen at a time. Eliza had a trunk with her trousseau – silver cutlery – and her husband would take a spoon and sell it and get some food, and he had a lot of samples of fabric from his work, baby clothes. And they got a pound of potatoes for one piece of clothing, vegetables too. The police used to come to investigate and her husband told them what they were doing. They said that’s barter – you mustn’t do that. They didn’t arrest him. They gave cigarettes to the police.

She had a Japanese cook and a maid there. They cooked and gave food to the police too. They were very nice. While staying in Bunkamura, Eliza Shawn had double pneumonia, 103 fever. Her 6-year-old daughter was scared she’d die. She couldn’t walk to get to the big tree for shelter because she was sick. But she got better. A Japanese doctor in Bunkamura put a therapy on her shoulder and her fever went away. She was surprised. There was no penicillin, and she was lucky to be alive. Her grandmother died during the war in Bunkamura, they took her body to the grave. She’s buried in Kobe. Her name is Katoun Mattuck – Ezra’s Mattuck’s mother.

Eliza remembers when the Americans bombed Hiroshima, the sky was black at 10 a.m. as if it was nighttime. She brought the kids inside and looked for a candle. After a half hour, it cleared up, but the sky was full of burnt paper. It wasn’t a very good sight.[89]

Post-World War II:
After the war was over, the children played in all the buildings to see what they could find. People collected bricks to rebuild. Many people lived in caves on the way to Katabi. Across the street from the police stations, Ezra Choueke rented a place after the war. They stayed there till 1955 and then moved to Osaka. Everyone dealt with the U.S. Army and sold them souvenirs, which got them some money – MPC – military currency.[90]

After the war, a lot of people’s homes were destroyed. Some people left Kobe. Houses that were in the hills were safe from the bombs. A lot of the city was destroyed.

In 1947 Isaac Goldman became active with his business again; before that, he was active with the American GI’s. They had a house in Shioya and were entertaining soldiers. Goldman was partners with Eliah Mizrahi before he left, and also with Nissim Tawil, Goldman’s brother-in-law. Eliah and Isaac sold souvenirs to GI’s, who gave them US dollars – war script. There was a chaplain named Miller who would cash the scripts for them through the exchange. In 1946/7 there was no matzah or kosher food for Pesach, so the chaplain gave them permission to bring in one shipment of food from LA to Japan.[91]

In August 1945 American soldiers came to Kobe. The chaplain came to the community and said that they needed a place for the holiday – it was September. He said he heard Rahmo Sassoon had a big place where he showed furniture to the American army and foreigners – could Rahmo give them this spot for the high holidays? They convinced Rahmo to make it a synagogue, calling it Ohel Shelomoh – this is somewhere between 1945 and 1948. It became a community. Rahmo left Kobe in 1949 for Italy.[92]

Isaac Goldman had gone to the synagogue that Rahmo opened up – he blew shofar, read the Sefer Torah, until he left. The minyan they got at the shul included him, Rahmo, Victor Moshe, Dahude, Edmund Sasssoon, Moshe Nissim, Yoseph Naim (Egyptian), Ezra Mattuck, Victor Mattuck, Choueke sometimes (if he woke up), and Sass Fattal. Victor Kelly came only on holidays. Friday nights they had a minyan; Saturday Eliah Mizrahi set up a meza table – Arabic table with salads, chummus and techinah – that was the main attraction.[93]

In 1948, Victor Moche returned to Kobe after leaving in 1945 on an American naval ship. He had returned to Baghdad and gotten married to Fadhila Bassa, a 16-year-old from Baghdad, in 1947. Moche founded his own import-export firm, Victor C. Moche, Ltd. in Kobe, and Fadhila Bassa Moche came to Kobe in 1949 with their two young children, Helena and Charlie. She went on to have five more children in Kobe: Selim David, Juliana, Margarita, Ruth and Samuel. She learned to speak Japanese, cook Japanese food, and practice the art of Japanese flower arranging (“Ikebana”). She appeared on television, demonstrating her legendary Iraqi culinary skills on a Japanese cooking show. In Kobe’s Jewish community she served as president of the Women’s Auxiliary Committee, and provided a mikveh in her home for the community’s women.

Maurice Wahba came back to Japan in 1949 after being in India during the war. His wife and kids joined him. According to him, the synagogue moved from a rental on Tor Road to Rahmo Sassoon’s carpet warehouse on Kitano-cho, below the Morozoff house.[94]

Jack Choueke and Maurice Wahba both remembered Jewish soldiers visiting Kobe during the Korean War. Some stayed at Maurice and Katie’s home at 66 Nishiyama-cho. Frida Hamway hosted a lot of Jewish doctors on the High Holidays.  Dr. Philip Troen was a doctor who became very close to the Moche family and was often called during emergencies.

The 1950s and 1960s:
In the 1950s and 60s there was a handful of stable Jewish families that had near-absolute control of the community and made sure it was tended to as necessary. They weren’t extremely wealthy, but they were comfortable or better. Irwin Gotlieb’s father Jacob was the only Ashkenazi among the Sephardim. The Ashkenazi community disappeared toward the end of World War II. There were a few others, but by the early 50s, almost all of them had left. Jacob Gotlieb was the chazzan on Yom Kippur. Other than that, most of the prayers were Sephardic-style. Victor Moche read the Torah and Jacob Gotlieb was the gabbai.

Religious observance was eclectic. Some didn’t keep Shabbos and others did. Some didn’t eat kosher and others did. Hebrew school was taught by Victor Moche and Jacob Gotlieb. There were about 18-20 families between 1952 and 1965. Once the kids had their bar mitzvahs, attendance was basically mandatory for a minyan. As soon as kids finished school, they left the country. None of the parents had Japanese citizenship. They had "status quo" – a document that was like permanent residency. Irwin Gotlieb had to get a re-entry permit each time he went back to Japan so that he could keep the status quo. It was stapled into his passport. Only racially pure Japanese had citizenship. Kobe had the largest foreign community. [95]

Victor Moche and Albert Hamway shechted their own chickens and led services. There were only around 25-30 permanent families. [96] Shaul Moshi (Moche) got married in Israel in 1952 and brought back a Sefer Torah to Japan. His brother Victor Moche read from that Torah and was in charge of taking care of the synagogue.[97]

Rachel (formerly Racheline) Wahba says that she was the only Jew in her class until Susan Goldberg came in 5th grade. In 7th grade, Rachel wrote a book report about the Holocaust and there was a girl in her class named Helga whose mother was Japanese and whose father was a Nazi. After she read her report to the class, Helga said that her father said that Hitler built good roads for Germany. And another girl asked the teacher, who was a nun, if Hitler would go to heaven or hell if he repented at the last minute. The nun said that if he was 100% sincere, he’d eventually go to heaven because he was a baptized Catholic, but Racheline would never go to heaven because she wasn’t.[98]

In a photo that Maurice Wahba had from the 1950s, you can see that the Torah was read the Ashkenazi way, without the box and without the cover. They had 80,000 yen and 80 Mizrahim wanted a Torah cover the Sephardi way, so they went to a carpenter and explained how it should be made and they had it made.[99]

Ruth Mattuck Erlichman was born in 1957 in Kobe. Her paternal grandmother was very religious and lived in her house growing up and was a strong influence. She went to shul and she remembers having Kiddush there. She went to Hebrew school there. They had two or three groups in Hebrew school, co-ed. It went to 15/16 years old. Israelis taught Hebrew school – they weren’t religious and usually lived there for only a few years. She remembers that Mr. Aminov slaughtered chickens every six months and they kept tons of it in the freezer. They ate a lot of fish. Ruth learned how to make gefilte fish from Mrs. Gotlieb. At the Passover Seder, they all went around reading parts of the Haggadah that they had prepared beforehand. They had lots of visitors. It was a full shul. On Shabbat, different people visited. Her house was always full of guests.

There was separate seating in the shul, and prayers were Iraqi-style because of Mr. Moche – the tunes and pronunciation. All the kids dressed up on Purim. Ruth said that there was a large East Indian community in Kobe that wasn’t Jewish and they would go to the movies together. Her mother was often invited to the India Club as a guest. Her mother also taught English to a group of Japanese ophthalmologists over the phone. Ruth entered a singing contest with her friends through Yamaha and competed, but had to drop out when she was leaving Kobe for Canada.[100]

Kelly Hillaly, Stella Mattuck’s uncle, used to auction off the aliyot at shul during the holidays, entertaining everyone. He left a trust to the Jewish community, which helped it for many years. Henry Bakash and Victor Moche talked him into it. He only came to the shul for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.[101]

Gail Hamway came to Kobe in 1957 from NY when she was 6. She says her family was the only Orthodox family in Kobe. They didn’t go to school on any of the holidays. Her father Albert wouldn’t let people bring nonkosher food into the synagogue. Their meat was shipped from NY. They walked to some parties on Friday night. They went with friends to the movies on Saturday and their friends paid for them. She had non-Jewish boyfriends, but they knew it wasn’t serious. They had tons of company in their house for holidays. Her mother had 40-50 people over for dinner. Gail said she went to Canadian Academy, a missionary school that was very lenient. She and her sister were sent out of class when they were teaching about the New Testament. They’d go to the principal’s office and have them look up things from the Hebrew Bible.[102]

Judy Hamway said that her father Albert had a plaque down by the Kobe port that said that any Jew who passed through and needed a meal could call him, and it had his number on it. So, businessmen who came in for the weekend would end up spontaneously at their house for a meal. Help in Japan was very inexpensive. They had a housekeeper and a cook, so they cooked for many. Judy Hamway remembers that Mr. Blumenthal taught Hebrew school. He taught the Alef-Bet, how to read, and they would do skits for Purim and Chanukah in the shul for the community. She remembers her father killing chickens in her backyard, which was a cue for the kids to go Hebrew school.

From 1968 to 1969, there was a communal effort to convert the warehouse where the community prayed into a real synagogue. The community raised money to tear it down and to recreate the whole thing. Maurice Wahba said he was instrumental in raising money for it. Gail remembers that her father Albert met with an architect and had them design the new building to look like Shaare Zion Congregation on Ocean Parkway, in Brooklyn. He also took a Sefer Torah with him from NY to Japan.[103]

Danny Attias came to Kobe around 1968. He was there for 10 years, but kept coming back and forth. He only remembers the new synagogue building. It had a low partition instead of a mechitzah. They kept Shabbat and holidays and kashrut as best as they could. Kobe was the center of the pearl business. Mr. Gotlieb was one of the initiatives of the new synagogue. During the week there was no activity in the synagogue, just Friday night at Saturday. His father-in-law built a mikvah in their house. Many Jews got in touch with them for the mikvah.[104]

The 1970s:In 1970, the Jewish Community of Kansai was established along with the new synagogue building of Ohel Shelomoh. Victor Moche and Albert Hamway orchestration the construction of the synagogue. In 1972, Simon Elmalah – who is Moroccan - came to Kobe, married a Japanese woman and went back to Israel. In 1973, Frida and Albert Hamway left. Japan had become too expensive.
Joe Djemal came to Kobe in December 1973 from Italy, and before that Lebanon. He discovered that Osakabe, the chief of police, was still staying in the Sassoon apartments. He evicted the security officer. Joe was 25 and a bachelor when he came. There was no one his age in Kobe, and his family brought girls in to set him up with. There were a lot of Israelis with Japanese spouses. There was a minyan at the synagogue on Saturday mornings, but on Friday nights they couldn’t get a minyan. On holidays, a lot of people came.[105]

In 1975, the Moches established a residence in Manhattan Beach, NY, and they permanently settled there in 1985.

Max Djemal came to Kobe in 1977. When Victor Moche went back and forth to New York, Joe Djemal took over operations of the synagogue. Aaron Aminoff, a pearl dealer from Iran, was in charge of selling matzah, chicken and wine at the synagogue before Pesach. Max Djemal sat with Ezra Choueke and Dahude Sassoon in the synagogue. Max’s home and apartmemt building were right next to the synagogue. He used to invite everyone to his house after Friday night services.

The synagogue had five board members: the president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and the house committee chairman. They had meetings once or twice a year. They imported wines and took care of communal needs. People were extremely careful in extending money. They were in charge of giving people proper burials. The main activities in the synagogue were during the holidays – parties – Simchat Torah, Purim, Chanukah, Israeli Independence Day and Rosh Hashanah. They prepared food for the parties and gave some money to pay a waiter.

Ernesto Kartuzo became president of the synagogue in the late 1970s. He was extremely active, although the synagogue had almost no attendants. He was from Algeria and was a pearl dealer. Gaby Josue came every single Saturday. There was a lot of rivalry between Josue, Choueke and Gotlieb.

The 1980s:
Simon Elmaleh came back to Kobe from Israel in 1983 when Victor Navarski offered to open up a Middle Eastern restaurant with him in Kobe. He lived in Victor Moche’s old mansion. He became active in the synagogue in 1989/1990. Victor Navarski was vice president of the synagogue until Simon took over. Simon said he tried to respect the oldest people in the community and run it the way they had in mind – to please the people that built the synagogue and to take care of the money. Simon said that on holidays Chabad sent them two rabbis from NY. There was a mohel from the Philipines. They had kosher food from the Jewish community in Tokyo. Simon is a chef and he prepared some beautiful Passover Seders. Mrs. Kartuzo helped keep the synagogue’s books.

Gadi Ichaki was president of the community for a very long time. He took over after Kartuzo became sick and died. Every year, the community had a huge party for Israeli Independence Day. They had 70-100 people at the Seders. They were very involved in the international community. Ichaki did everything at the shul – president, treasurer, rabbi. He put up the mechitzah and some people objected to it. Before, there was a small wooden separation, but he made it higher. His wife made a mikvah with Rabbi Bernard Levy and Chabad. Chabad from Hong Kong helped. Gadi Ichaki left Kobe in 1986. Ichaki said that they were always very strong financially. Victor Moche and other older people in the community established a good fund. They put money in the bank that no one could touch. They had a good shamash – a Japanese guy named Hanaoka – a caretaker – in the 1960s and 70s.

Bruce Benson was very active in the synagogue – he was the secretary. He came from New Zealand and wanted to do judo. He wasn’t so knowledgeable but he liked to help. [106]

The 1990s:During the Gulf War, the synagogue had security outside in case Muslims tried to threaten them. In 1995 was the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The 10 commandments were on the floor. Lucy Choueke’s house had very bad damage. The chimney fell on the roof of the synagogue and destroyed part of the roof. One of the walls that was protecting the building outside was damaged. The community wrote letters to B’nai Brith and Mizrahi for money, and most of the money came in from B’nai Brith. The synagogue had some money but they wanted to save it for hard times. Simon Elmaleh was president for two shifts. The roof was leaking. They had to make big repairs, including electric. They put in a fire-alarm system. They had to fix the mikvah. They got about $100,000 from all the different places. Mrs. Kartuzo’s house was almost completely destroyed during the earthquake and she rented her house from the mosque, but they didn’t want to help her out, which was very sad. Simon told her to get her things and move into the apt in the synagogue and she did. Victor Kelly’s house was destroyed and he slept at the Kobe Club until Simon took him in his home for three months.

Bruce Benson was the president in the 1990s, but he had been secretary for many years. He and Mr. Nissan Anav had brought in a full time rabbi from Chabad at one point.[107]

Jacob ben Avi came to Kobe in 1991. He works for a real estate company. He’s been the president for the last three years. He works on financial issues, security, the caretaker, the rabbi, authorities in Japan – secret service and police on high holidays. Today Rabbi Asaf Tobi, from Chabad, is the spiritual leader of the synagogue. He is Yemenite, but acts Ashkenazi, although he’s been trained to know the Sephardic melodies. He’s in charge of kashrut, the prayers, consulting people and the foreign community, and representing them on occasions. He’s here for three years and he’s almost finished. Then Chabad will send another rabbi.

The 2000's until the Present: On a weekly basis, around 50 people come in. On high holidays and Passover, they get 170-200 people. Every Shabbat they have visitors from abroad. They have three meals on Shabbat. People can stay over at people’s homes or at the rabbi’s apartment. The rabbi does outreach to Jews in other cities of Japan. There’s a Sunday school – now there are 5-6 kids. On holidays about 30 kids are there. They have pre-wrapped meals – vegetarian, meat and fish. Business people come to visit all the time and they eat meals there. A lot of members are married to non-Jews, which is challenging, but they work with it. Everyone’s welcome. They have Persian carpets. The old Sefer Torah is being fixed. Some of them are over 200 years old. They have a weekly meeting with the police. The services are a combination of Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Israeli and Chasidic. The people are very young – the average age is the 30s.[108]

[2] Izumi Sato
[4] Izumi Sato
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] George and Alex Sidline
[9] Tokayer, Marvin. The Fugu Plan (Jerusalem, Gefen, 2004) 133.
[10] Tamara Rozansky
[11] Cohen, Israel. The Journal of a Jewish Traveler (London, The Mayflower Press, 1925), 136-154.
[13] Pat Gercik
[14] Smith, Stanley L. American Jewish Yearbook (Philadelphia, 1971) 466.
[15] Eliza Shawn
[16] Smith, Stanley L. American Jewish Yearbook (Philadelphia, 1971) 466.
[20] Isaac and Leon Fattal
[21] Rahmo Sassoon
[22] Eliza Shawn
[23] George Sidline
[24] Irwin Gottlieb
[25] Tamara Rozansky
[26] George Sidline
[27] Esther Tawil
[28] Rahmo Sassoon
[29] Joe and Max Djemal
[30] Esther Tawil and Isaac Goldman
[31] Rahmo Sassoon
[32] Tokayer, Marvin. The Fugu Plan (Jerusalem, Gefen, 2004) 123.
[35] Rahmo Sassoon
[37] Maurice Wahba’s book c/o Rachel Wahba
[38] Violet Simon
[40] Ibid
[41] Ibid; Tokayer
[42] Tokayer
[43] Kotsuji
[44] Kranzler, David. Japanese, Nazis & Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938-1945 (New York, Yeshiva University Press), 319.
[45] Rahmo Sassoon
[46] Sakamoto
[47] US Holocaust Museum
[48] Kranzler
[49] Kranzler
[50] Tokayer
[51] Sakamoto
[52] Warhaftig, Zorach. Refugee and Survivor: Rescue Efforts During the Holocaust (Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, 1988), 152-3, 157.
[53] Tokayer
[54] Goldman, Isaac.
[55] Sakamoto.
[56] Warhaftig, 161.
[57] Kranzler, 318.
[58] Sassoon, Rahmo.
[59] Goldman, Isaac.
[60] Kranzler, 316-7.
[61] Warhaftig, 157-8.
[62] Leon, Masha.
[63] US Holocaust Museum.
[64] Sasson, Rahmo.
[65] Tawil, Esther.
[66] Goldman, Isaac.
[67] Tokayer, 149-152.
[68] Rachel Wahba’s book.
[69] Sassoon, Rahmo.
[70] Fattal, Isaac.
[71] Simon, Violet.
[72] Howes, John F. Canadian Journal of History (Canada, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2002).
[73] Elbaum, Ellie.
[74] US Holocaust Museum.
[75] Sakamoto, Pamela Rotner. Japanese Diplomats and Jewish Refugees: A World War II Dilemma (Connecticut, Praeger, 1998), 142-3.
[76] Sato, Izumi.
[77] Rachel Wahba’s book.
[78] Tokayer, 200.
[79] Sassoon, Rahmo.
[80] Goldman, Isaac.
[81] Sidline, George.
[82] Elbaum, Ellie.
[83] Tokayer, 272.
[84] Goldman, Isaac.
[85] Sidline, George.
[86] Mattuck, Stella.
[87] Fattal, Isaac.
[88] Fattal, Leon.
[89] Shawn, Eliza.
[90] Choueke, Jack.
[91] Goldman, Isaac.
[92] Sassoon, Rahmo.
[93] Goldman, Isaac.
[94] Rachel Wahba’s book.
[95] Gotlieb, Irwin.
[96] Moche, Charlie.
[97] Mochi, Shaul.
[98] Wahba, Rachel.
[99] Rachel Wahba’s book.
[100] Erlichman, Ruth Mattuck.
[101] Mattuck, Stella.
[102] Hamway, Gail.
[103] Hamway, Judy.
[104] Attias, Danny.
[105] Djemal, Joe.
[106] Djemal, Max.
[107] Elmaleh, Simon.
[108] Ben Avi, Jacob.