As it has been for the past five years or so, I had forgotten completely about Rosh Hashanah until my mom texted me to have a healthy and happy new year.
After texting her back, I was having my coffee in bed and catching up on the various newsletters that had found their way into my inbox. I follow a number of other expat and travel writers online and am constantly falling behind on reading other writers’ newsletters. One of these is from an American writer who moved to Germany partly so that he can explore the outdoors there, and partly to rediscover his Jewish roots. And his newsletter reminded me of my own somewhat dormant calling, and why Europe always has such a strong hold on me: to get in touch with my own Jewishness.
I was never more aware of my minority religious status as I am in Japan. Growing up in Los Angeles, it was easy to feel very much a majority. In Turkey, I was made fully aware that I was a minority, but something of a spectacle, as everyone in the middle east is aware of Jews, for good or bad. But here in Japan, it’s entirely different. Religion just doesn’t cross most peoples’ minds the way it does in other places. Oftentimes, I am the first Jewish person someone has met, and even quite a few fellow Americans and Westerners have assailed me with questions and curiosities about my people. It’s easy to gradually grow less in touch with ones’ Jewishness here. At the same time, you have to remain a spokesperson, although I certainly can’t say that my Jewish experience is the same as others.
Living in Tokyo, I thought it would be better. I can say that I have met more than two other Jewish people here and I hear rumors of both a deli and a synagogue. But I haven’t really sought any of that out, and I know that’s mostly on me, but also it doesn’t feel like it really fits with living here. I would like to have a life where my religious and spiritual identity fits not just within myself, but within my life.
I am reminded of the last time I was in Europe, and how struck I was by the resurrection of Jewish communities in parts of Germany, Poland, and Ukraine. These are places where we were decimated, destroyed, wiped out, and yet, there is a desire to reclaim and rebuild what was lost, and to start something new. I want to be part of that. That’s where my roots lie. That’s why Europe calls out to me so strongly, why it has always felt a little like home.
For those of you who are reading and freaking out and thinking that I hate Japan and are going to leave tomorrow, fear not! I’m still loving my Tokyo dream life and have unfinished business here, plus there’s the little fact that I physically can’t leave the country due to a global pandemic and I have basically no money saved because I got laid off. I just started a job that I’m loving with an exciting new company, and doing quite a bit of Japan-related writing for various clients as well. But after having the rug swept out from under me and feeling lost for the majority of this year, it’s good to feel my internal compass start to align again. As James Baldwin said: “You have to go the way your blood beats.”
Let me leave you with a shameless link to some of that Japan-related writing I’ve been doing lately, an article for Japan Forward covering foreign teachers’ experiences during the COVID-19 crisis and resulting State of Emergency here in Japan. If you’re wondering, the situation in Japan seems to be more or less under control. Everyone wears masks in public and sanitizes their hands constantly, and pretty much all businesses are open, although most public events and large gatherings are still canceled. The number of new daily cases is on a downward trend, and many of us are wondering how much they are actually testing and when we will see a second wave. But otherwise, life is very normal here.
I hope wherever you are reading this from you are able to find peace and align your own internal compass, and that you have a happy and healthy new year.
L’shana tovah v’metukah,