Life saved and life that will be saved: Trip to Israel

Kinue Tokudome

(A longer  Japanese version was published in the October 2016 issue of Ushio.)

The phrase that concludes Passover, “Next year in Jerusalem,” has been my wish since twenty years ago. At that time, I was interviewing people for my book on the Holocaust. I met people who devoted their lives to telling the history and lessons of the Holocaust, such as the legendary Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Chicago Mercantile Exchange Chairman Leo Melamed who was saved by a visa issued by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, and Congressman Tom Lantos who was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress.


Mr. Simon Wiesenthal                        Congressman Tom Lantos

Some of them became my close friends. For them, Israel, especially Jerusalem, was a very special place. They used to ask me, “When are you going to Jerusalem?” And I would always answer, “Soon, I promise.” Then, I began working on the issues relating to American POWs of the Japanese during WWII and years just went by.

It was my meeting with Mayor Isamu Sato of Kurihara City, Miyagi prefecture, Japan that finally led to my visit to Israel. I came back to my hometown in the same prefecture two years ago and learned that Mayor Sato had helped the Israeli medical team that came to Minamisanriku, a town almost swept away by the tsunami in 2011, to assist victims. I decided to pay him a visit. Mayor Sato shared with me the fascinating stories of his having lived in a kibbutz in his early 20s and having promised that he would work to promote Japan-Israel friendship. Forty some years later, he would deliver on that promise.

Mayor Sato was told that the Israeli medical team would come as a self-contained unit so that the receiving community would not have to provide food or other necessities. Still, with the central government in disarray because of the dire situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was also hit by the tsumani, he knew it would be his responsibility, as the head of a nearby city, to prepare for the arrival of the medical team.

An emergency clinic with prefab buildings would be built in Minamisanriku which had lost most of its infrastructure. Electricity to run the emergency clinic needed to be generated and a supply of clean water needed to be secured. Rooms in a hotel in Kurihara City were set aside as a sleeping quarters for the medical team. Gasoline, the scarcest commodity at that time, had to be procured to run the bus carrying the team every day to the clinic.

On March 28, 2011, the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command and Medical Corps Aid delegation arrived in the area. The team comprised a group of nearly 50 members—doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and even interpreters who spoke Japanese. The following day, they opened an advanced medical clinic featuring pediatrics, surgical, maternity and gynecological, and otolaryngology wards, an optometry department, a laboratory, a pharmacy and an intensive care unit.

Mayor Sato’s previous worries that local people might feel uncomfortable being treated by foreign doctors vanished when he saw how smoothly the medical team was treating them. After treating more than 200 patients in two weeks, the IDF medical team finished their mission. During the farewell party, Mayor Sato sang the song he had remembered a long time ago in Israel, “Jerusalem of Gold,” which was soon joined by all the members of the team.

Israeli Ambassador to Japan Ruth Kahanoff and Mayor Sato

The article I wrote about Mayor Sato was published in Jerusalem Post last year, through a kind arrangement by Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Later, I had the opportunity to learn about the background of Dr. Ofer Merin, who headed the Israeli medical team. The more I knew about him, the more I wanted to write an article on him. Dr. Merin is the Deputy Director General and Director of Trauma Services at the Shaare Zedek Hospital, as well as a Lt. Colonel in the IDF’s Reserve Forces.

IDF has an independent medical unit that can be dispatched at a moment’s notice to anywhere around the world hit by a major natural disaster. The team headed by Dr. Merin performed medical assistance work in disaster stricken countries like Haiti, the Philippines, and Nepal. At the Shaare Zedek Hospital, he often treats victims of terrorist attacks, even terrorists themselves.

Since last year, there has been a spate of attacks, especially with knives, by Palestinians around Jerusalem. The Israel media prominently reported Dr. Merin’s work as his team tried to treat the victims as they were rushed into the trauma unit.

Finally, Rabbi Cooper, who is a friend of Dr. Merin’s, arranged an interview with Dr. Merin for me last June. I was praying that there would be no major natural disaster around the world or terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. And I was finally able to meet Dr. Merin at the Shaare Zedek Hospital.

Here is my interview with Dr. Merin:

Can you tell us about your father?

My father was a kid in a Jewish village in Poland during WWII. One day, they were put into a train to Auschwitz. Not all Jewish people understood the meaning of it. But his mother understood. So as the train was about to leave she kicked my 8-year-old father and his 6-year-old sister off the train.

A Christian lady found them and decided to hide them in her house. It was a very courageous decision because if anyone found out that she was hiding Jews, she would be killed. She hid them for18 months and they survived the war.

A few years later my father and his sister came to Israel as orphans. Graduated high school and went to medical school. He made a very nice career as an ophthalmologist.

He spent a lot of his time working in the third world countries, helping people. He personally opened a few eye departments in hospitals in Africa when I was 4 or 5 years old. Looking back, it must be more than just he wanted to help people in Africa. People were killed in Europe because they were Jewish. I think his going to Africa and helping people there was his way of telling, “We are all human beings. We are all equal.”

He passed away three years ago. In his last years he had cancer in his blood and was treated in this hospital. He recovered but the cancer came back. One of the doctors told him that there was a research going on for new drug that might cure him. The treatment was available in two countries, Germany and the US.

He had gone to the US many times. So he could have easily chosen to go to the US to receive the treatment. But he said, “Let’s go to Germany.” I think that was a very powerful statement for him to make. The Germans killed his parents, yet he said, “I am able to trust you. You can treat me.” 

I heard that there were times that you treated terrorists.

I have to be very honest. This is one of the most difficult aspects of my work. It is very easy to stand up in a classroom and speak to medical students loudly of medical ethos that every patient is equal. That is easy. But when a terrorist who was shot and the victim he tried to kill are brought in to the trauma unit just a minute apart, you have to make a quick decision. Which one should we bring to the operating room first?  Now you are standing in a position to ask yourself, “Should part of my decision making take into account the issue that he is a terrorist?” No. We treat the patient whose medical need is more urgent.

But we must also be sensitive to feeling of the victims’ family. Imagine a mother who is rushing to the trauma unit where her daughter had been brought in after a terrorist attack. What would she feel when I explain to her that I am treating the person who tried to kill her daughter first. I don’t want to tell you how many times I was stopped in the corridor by family members telling me, “Dr. Merin, are you crazy treating the terrorist first?” It is not easy to explain to the family.

We physicians are not judges. I always tell my people we should be extremely cautious for what I call slippery slope. We all share our same thoughts for murderers or rapists. But that does not mean we should treat them in different ways. Once I start judging these people who I am treating, it will never end.

You grew up in a family with a father who valued life so much, yet you are now treating people who never value life at all, even their own. Isn’t it difficult? 

We don’t agree with a single percentage of whatever he is doing, but in that point of time, he is a human being. I am cautiously using this word, but I am proud that we are able to treat every patient equally.

Do you think your work, as you explained to me, personifies some aspect of your country?

When there is a disaster around the world, I receive hundreds of phone calls from those who want to volunteer. I have to tell them, “Sorry, we are all booked up.” Yes, I think it is due to the value of this country that was born because people told them, “We should exterminate you because you are Jew. We are doing the opposite. We are treating every one as equal. If you ask me if there is a connection between the reasons this state was born and what we are doing, my personal thought is, yes there is.

Rabbi Cooper asked Dr. Merin to share with us one incident in Japan that stayed with him.

For me, one of the powerful moments in Japan was the minute that you understand that you gained the trust of the people. Unlike some other countries we went to help, Japan is one of the biggest countries in the world with an extremely good medical system. So gaining their trust was not so obvious at all. The powerful moment came when people started to speak with us. Not only on their medical issues, but about their feeling and emotion. In this village we were deployed, we knew almost every person we were treating had someone very close to them die, who could be their spouse or kid or a very good neighbor. And after a few days, they started to speak with us about their emotion or about what they were afraid of. That was an important moment for me because that was when I knew we were doing the right job.


After the interview, Dr. Merin brought us to the trauma unit. It was not a large room. Imagining the scene where both a terrorist and a victim are brought in there at the same time, I thought about the difficulty of Dr. Merin’s work. He was true to his belief that every life is precious. I was filled with joy of being able to meet him in person.

The Talmud, teaching of the Judaism, says, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” I realized that this saying was not just an old teaching in the Talmud, but something that had been lived by people like Dr. Merin’s father and Dr. Merin himself.

Each one of us should remember those who displayed courage to save lives and learn from those who honor their legacy by their own deeds.














そうは言っても日本の外務省は結局、自国の領地と領海 ― 韓国と領有権を争う独島/竹島、中国との釣魚島/尖閣島、ロシアとの南クリル/北方領土など ― が侵されてはならないことに関しては、正しく信じている。日本の指導者は、中国とロシアの爆撃機が頻繁に日本の領空に侵入したり、中国の潜水艦が沖縄近海に入ってくることも、当然憂慮している。







オリジナルは Asia Times 7月29日掲載        (日本語訳:徳留絹枝)

Algemeiner  7月30日掲載版には、以下の点も付け加えられました。

― 北朝鮮が1973年の第4次中東戦争時、反イスラエル国側に航空機と人員を提供したこと。シリア・イランなどのイスラエル敵国に、武器、化学・生物兵器、核兵器技術を売ったこと。

― 日本の人々にとって平和・遊び・美のシンボルである凧が 今回はハマスのテロ行為に使われたこと。パレスチナの若者が火炎物を取り付けて飛ばした凧は、イスラエル南部三か所の森林を破壊し、5千エーカーを焼き尽くした。













また国際社会の新しい流れにも、目を向ける必要があるのではないか。トランプ大統領のエルサレム首都宣言、それに対して大きな抗議活動を起こすこともなかった湾岸諸国の動向、サウジアラビアの宗教指導者が初めてホロコースト否定を糾弾する声明を発表したこと、続いて同国のムハンマド皇太子がアラブ指導者として初めて ”ユダヤ人が祖先の地に住む権利” を認めたこと、米国務省の最新報告書がヨルダン川西岸やガザを占領地と表記しなかったことなど、十年一日の「中立」政策でよいのかと思わせられる展開が続いているからだ。


筆者は最近、日本でも邦訳が出た『イスラエル―民族復活の歴史 』の著者で、イスラエルのシャーレム大学副学長ダニエル・ゴーディス氏とメールを交換した。ゴーディス氏は米国とイスラエルの主要新聞に頻繁に執筆しており、発言力も大きい人物だ。公平な立場から簡潔に纏められたこの著書は、指導層への批判が許されないパレスチナと違い、自国政策への批判が世界で最も自由に時には激しく行われるイスラエルで、良書として認められた。そして、米国で最古のユダヤ関連書籍紹介団体から、2016年度最優秀書に選ばれている。








1984年、4歳と3歳の子供を育てながらシカゴの大学に通っていた頃、公共テレビ PBSが放映した「Heritage: Civilization and the Jews」という9時間のドキュメンタリーを観たことがあります。聖書の時代から中世、近代、そしてホロコーストの悲劇を経てイスラエル建国に至るユダヤ人の歴史が、同時に人類全体の文明にどのような影響を与えたのかを、豊富な写真や興味深い資料で織りなした一大絵巻とも言うべき内容でした。シリーズを通して語り部を演じたのは、建国間もないイスラエルの国連大使、駐米大使、後に教育文化大臣、外務大臣を務めたアバ・イバン氏で、ケンブリッジ大学卒の学者であった彼の語り口は、簡潔で分かりやすい英語でありながら、格調の高いものでした。


その後10年ほどしてロサンゼルスに引っ越し、その地のユダヤ人指導者の数人と親しくなりました。その中の一人で、日露戦争時、日本に資金援助をしたジェーコブ・シフなどが設立した歴史あるユダヤ人団体 American Jewish Committee の西部地区代表ニール・サンドバーグ博士と、このドキュメンタリーの話をしたことがあります。そしてサンドバーグ博士が、日本人のユダヤ人理解を助けたいと、このドキュメンタリーをNHKで放映して貰うためにずいぶん努力したが結局実現しなかったことを、知りました。反ユダヤ的本がベストセラーになり、ホロコースト否定の記事さえ出る日本でこそ、このドキュメンタリーが放映されて欲しいと思っていた私も、その話を聞いてがっかりしたことを覚えています。

それからさらに20年以上が過ぎ、 今では「Heritage: Civilization and the Jews」の全編が Youtube で観られるようになりました。
(以下は第1話ですが、第2話以下もYoutube で検索可能です。)

つい最近では、サイモン・ウィーゼンタール・センターがユネスコと共同で制作したパネル展示「「民、聖書、その発祥の地:ユダヤ人と聖地の3500年にわたる繋がり 」が、東京で開かれました。着任したばかりのイスラエル大使ヤッファ・ベンアリ氏や松浦晃一郎 元ユネスコ事務局長、数人の国会議員も挨拶し、日本とイスラエルの間の理解を深めるこのような教育啓蒙活動の大切さを訴えました。

ヤッファ・ベンアリ大使      松浦氏・中山泰秀議員・クーパー師

特筆すべきは、この展示もPBS のドキュメンタリーも、イスラム教の誕生、それがやがて中東全域・北アフリカまで広まり豊かな文化を生み出したこと、その間ユダヤ人が身分は劣位であっても自らの宗教に従って生きることを許されていた歴史を、正確に伝えていることです。





”コーシャ”という言葉を初めて聞いたのは、アメリカに行って間もなく、大学に行き始めた時でした。授業の英語についていくのもおぼつかない頃、誰かがクラスで「Everything is Kosher」と言ったのです。前後の文脈から「全て問題ないよ。」というような意味と理解したのですが、コーシャの本当の意味を知るのはずっと後になってからでした。


1997年に本が出版された後、それを支援してくれたサイモン・ウィーゼンタール・センター副所長のエブラハム・クーパー師が日本に来てくれましたが、当時は東京に厳格にコーシャを守るレストランが無くて、彼は食べ物持参の来日でした。今は、高輪に純粋なコーシャレストランChana’s Placeがあるので、クーパー師と安心して食事ができます。

私は3年前に生まれ故郷の仙台に戻ってきましたが、何とそこに、コーシャフードについて大変詳しく、日本の食品会社にコーシャ認定の取り方をアドバイスしている人物がいたのです。(株)ヤマミズラ の門傳章弘社長です。会社のホームページには、コーシャフードについて、大変分かり易い説明が掲載されています。


 コーシャで食べて良い肉類は、基本的に草食動物であり且つ反芻動物(胃を二つ以上持つ動物)であることが条件になります。(牛、羊・・・・○ 豚、ウサギ・・・・×)さらに、完全に血抜きされた一定の食肉処理を施された肉のみ食することが出来ます。肉の血液は悪い菌を体内に運ぶと言われており、衛生上理にかなった規定といえます。







食品がコーシャであると認定する団体は世界に何百もありますが、[OU(Orthodox Union=ニューヨーク本部)]、[OK(Organized Kashrut=ニューヨーク本部)]、[KLBD(Kosher London Beth Din=ロンドン本部)]の3団体が質・規模ともにコーシャ認証で最も権威のある団体です。

この3団体はSuper Kosherと呼ばれ、古くから伝統とルールを守り、清潔、安全、衛生的というコーシャの概念を常に追求しており、認証に携わるラビ(宗教指導者)は化学、薬品、食品などの各分野でのエキスパートです。またこれらの団体では膨大な原材料データをもとに何百人というスタッフが世界中で活躍しています。