The American Jewish Community
Today, although Jews represent just 1.7% of the total U.S. population, they have significant influence in the areas of education, finance, media and political affairs. The U.S. Jewish community is centered in large states; California, Florida, Illinois, New York and in major cities, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and in the Southeast Florida corridor running from Miami to West Palm Beach.
In terms of political and religious affiliation, American Jews are far from monolithic.
In the presidential elections of 2008, 2012 and 2016, approximately 70% of their vote went to the Democratic candidate. Yet in 2004, almost 4 in 10 Jews voted for the Republican, Ronald Reagan.
The lack of uniformity can be seen in sharper focus when analyzing the religious commitments of American Jews. In general, those Jews who are members of synagogues are affiliated with Reform, Conservative or Orthodox congregations. A smattering of Jews are members of the Reconstructionist and Humanistic Judaism movements. The issue of affiliation is made complex by the diversity within Orthodoxy where there are modern congregations, various Hasidic groups and so called ultra-orthodox sects who shun relations with any Jews outside of their orbit.
The U.S. Jewish community is highly structured. There are 55 national organizations including secular and religious, federations in major communities, and scores of local community relations councils. In addition, there are networks of day and religious schools as well as groups coordinating programs on college and university campuses.
A portion of these organizations are involved in social welfare activities, others combat anti-Semitism and other forms of ethnic and racial prejudice, while others raise funds and engender support for both the State of Israel and for Jewish communities worldwide.
U.S. Jews have historically been open to developing relationships with the citizens of other countries through sister city and student exchange programs. Thus American Jews will enthusiastically welcome relationships with counterparts in Japan, people who share common values, aspirations and commitment to democratic institutions.
AJJS will play a significant role in this endeavor.
Jewish admiration for Japan was exemplified by the Zionist leader Nahum Sokolow, who wrote, " I have to confess that in one respect I am a Japanophile, in admiring the way they can adjust themselves to new circumstances."
It was during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) that Jewish-Japanese relations intensified as Jewish leaders from abroad raised funds to support Japan. In recognition of these efforts, the Emperor received the financier Albert Kahn and conferred The Order of the Rising Sun on Jacob H. Schiff, the president of one of America's most important investment banks.
In the wake of the Bolshevik revolution thousands of Jews fled Russia, settling in Manchuria and developing an important center in Harbin. The leaders of that 5,000 member Jewish community were its rabbi Aron Moshe Kisilev, and its president, Dr. Abraham Kaufman, the director of the Jewish hospital.
In November, Yosuke Matsuoka, the government official who had two months before signed the Axis pact with Hitler and Mussolini, wrote to a Jewish businessman, “I first want to assure you that anti-Semitism will never be adopted by Japan…and that is not only my personal opinion, it is a principle of the entire Japanese empire.”
One month later, Matsuoka met the Jewish manufacturer, Lew Zikman, telling him that the emperor himself strongly opposed the persecution of Jews. In 1940, 30,000 Jews from central and Eastern Europe passed through Japan on their way to refuge in Shanghai, then under Japanese control.
As the esteemed authority on Jewish-Japanese relations, Professor Ben-Ami Shillony, observed, the willingness of Japan to shelter Jewish refugees stands in sharp contrast to the attitude of the British, who had severely limited Jewish immigration to mandated Palestine and to the United States, which placed significant restrictions on immigration from Eastern Europe.
One of the foremost rescuers of Jews was Sempo Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, who in the summer of 1940 issued transit visas to thousands of Jewish refugees from Poland and Lithuania. Years later, Sigihara would be honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, with the title of “Righteous Gentile.”.
It is on this inspiring history of Japanese-Jewish relations that AJJP will build new bridges of cooperation, understanding and mutual respect.
Gen. Kiichiro Higuchi
The modern history of Jewish-Japanese relations began in the mid to late 19th century when 50 Jewish families lived in Yokohama and about 100 families resided in Nagasaki. The Jewish community was so well integrated in Yokohama that one of its members, Raphael Schoyer, a photographer and businessman, served as the first president of the city's Municipal Council.
Jewish academicians were involved in the life of Japan. The historian Ludwig Riess taught European history at the Tokyo Imperial University from 1887-1902. During the same period, the German Jewish scholar, Albert Mosse, advised the Japanese government on the drafting of a new constitution.
The responsibility of implementing this policy in Manchuria was given to General Kiichiro Higuchi, chief of the Guandong Army's Special Branch and to Colonel Noribiro Yasue, the army's specialist on Jewish affairs. These officials allowed thousands of Jewish refugees to enter Manchuria. December 1937 to December 1939, Higuchi and Yasue convened three annual conferences with delegates attending from Japan, North china and Manchuria. At the, held in Dece initial meeting the Far Eastern Jewish Council was established. Dr. Kaufman was elected as the council's president while Rabbi Kisilev was chosen the chief rabbi of the Far East.
Jews first settled in America in 1654, when 23 people from the Sephardic community in Curacao arrived in New Amsterdam, later New York. By the end of the 17th century, 300 Jews lived in what would become the United States. This number increased to 250,000 in 1880 following the immigration of Jews from Germany and Central Europe. By 1920, another one million Jews, fleeing pogroms, and the unrest resulting from the Bolshevik revolution, came to the U.S. from Russia and other Eastern European nations
For most of the history of Jewish presence in America, individuals faced discrimination in higher educational opportunity, employment and housing. This situation changed dramatically in the period following the conclusion of World War Two.