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Jewish Groups Send Aid to Japan; Small Jewish Community in Kobe

Jewish organizations have rallied to organize relief efforts on behalf of the victims of this week’s devastating earthquake in western Japan.

At least 4,000 people were killed and 14,000 injured in the earthquake, which struck the major port city of Kobe early Tuesday morning local time.

Kobe, a city of 1.4 million people, is home to some 30 Jewish families, according to B’nai B’rith. As of midweek, the fate of the community, which supports a synagogue and a mikvah (ritual bath), was unknown.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America said it was planning to send representatives to Japan this week to assess the needs of the community in Kobe.

Jews fleeing Hitler found refuge in Kobe during World War II, and the city became a center of Jewish life, according to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and a frequent visitor to Japan.

After the Germans put pressure on their Japanese ally to expel the Jews, a Chasidic rabbi representing the Kobe community was called before a council of military officers and Shinto priests, according to Cooper.

When the rabbi was asked why Japan should grant refuge to the Jews, the rabbi responded, “Because we are Asians.” The Jews were allowed to stay.

There are some 1,500-2,000 Jews currently living in Japan.

The relief efforts being organized by American Jewish groups, which will include medical supplies and financial support, will be distributed to Jews and non-Jews alike.

“It’s the humane thing to do. It’s doing a mitzvah, said a spokeswoman for B’nai B’rith.

Israel has also offered its assistance, according to the Jerusalem Post, in the form of its army’s dog-assisted rescue unit. The unit will help to look for survivors buried under rubble.

Knesset Speaker Shevach Weiss sent a letter to his Japanese counterpart Tuesday expressing “shock at the news of the strong earthquake which hit Japan,” according to the Post.

Those wishing to assist the victims of the earthquake should contact the following organizations: – American Jewish World Service, 15 West 26th St., 9th floor, New York, N.Y., 10010. (212) 683-1161. – Disaster Relief Fund of B’nai B’rith, 1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20036. (202) 857-6582 – Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, 333 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y., 10001 (212) 563-4000. – JDC-Japan Open Mailbox, JDC, 711 Third Ave., New York, N.Y., 10017-4014 (212) 687-6200.

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