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Authors Highlight Japan Chapters from Forthcoming Book Detailing Little-Known Figures in Jewish and Asian History

Spies, Scholars & Statesmen: Amazing Stories about the Jews & the Japanese

Thursday, May 29, 2014, 6:30 pm, at Japan Society


New York, NY – There is a missing page in Jewish history according to the book Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East, due out this summer. Co-authored by Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, Lifetime Honorary Rabbi of Japan's Jewish community, and writer and television producer Dr. Ellen Rodman, the book weaves together fascinating characters and history of the Jews of Asia.

Highlighting the Japanese chapters in the book, Rabbi Tokayer and Rodman appear in the Japan Society talk Spies, Scholars & Statesmen: Amazing Stories about the Jews & the Japanese. In addition to famous names such as Beate Gordon, who fought to include rights for women and children in Japan's postwar constitution, and Moe Berg, the baseball player who became an American spy in Japan, the authors introduce little-known figures in Jewish and Japanese history, including Jacob Schiff, a Jewish financier who raised an enormous sum of money for Japan during the Russo-Japanese War; Marcus Samuel, Jr., who founded Shell Oil with help from the Japanese; and Jewish musicians who taught music to Japanese young people and contributed to Japan's cultural life.

They also detail the powerful story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania during WWII, who helped Jews escape the Holocaust by defying his superiors and issuing transit visas. Recently profiled by the New York Times, Sugihara has been referred to as the Oskar Schindler of Japan, and some scholars believe he saved as many as 10,000 lives. The story was documented in detail in Rabbi Tokayer's seminal 1979 book The Fugu Plan: The Untold Story Of The Japanese And The Jews During World War II, co-authored with Mary Swartz.

Taking place Thursday, May 29, Spies, Scholars & Statesmen: Amazing Stories about the Jews & the Japanese also features remarks from Deputy Consul General Shlomi Kofman from the Consulate General of Israel in New York. The event is followed by a reception.

Set to be released July 2014 by Gefen Publishing, Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories about Jews and the Far East dispels the misconception that Jewish history is only to be found in the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, and the Americas. In addition to the people related to Japan mentioned above, the book shares stories of Jewish people who both benefitted from and contributed throughout Asia, including "the 'uncrowned Jewish king of China,' the indefatigable World War II refugees in Kobe… as well as the Jew who served as Singapore’s first prime minister, the amusing comedy of errors surrounding the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng, the smart and eccentric woman who introduced China to the West and never went anywhere without her pet gibbon, and the extraordinary tale of the sixteenth-century Marrano physician in India. Jewish contributors to Eastern music and the Jewish members of Mao Zedong’s inner circle also have their stories told."

Rabbi Marvin Tokayer served as Vice President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Southeast Asia and the Far East; as a Delegate to the World Conference of Religion & Peace in 1970; as a Delegate to the First International Conference of Science, Philosophy & Religion in 1978; and as Board Member of the Sino-Judaic Institute. While in Japan from 1968 to1976, the American Jewish World notes "Tokayer was the only English-speaking, university-trained rabbi from India to Japan. Though he was based in Tokyo, he was named vice president of Jewish communities of southeast Asia and the Far East, serving the Jews of Japan, India, Burma, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore for religious, educational and cultural matters." Rabbi Tokayer has written seven articles on rabbinics and the Orient for the Encyclopedia Judaica; authored 20 books in Japanese on Judaica and Japan; coauthored The Fugu Plan (Paddington Press); and appeared in and contributed to the award-winning PBS documentary Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness in 2005. He is widely respected in India, China and Japan and has access to sites, artifacts, and people in each country, and personally holds several important artifacts that illustrate some of the stories of the Jews in these countries.

Rabbi Tokayer received a special commendation this year from the Consulate General of Japan in New York, for contributing to the promotion of Japan-U.S. friendship through his many publications. "After his first service as the only rabbi in the Asia region [he] introduced to the Jewish community in the U.S. the relatively unknown relationship at that time between Japan and the Jewish in the World War II period." More at http://www.rabbitokayer.com/.

Dr. Ellen Rodman is a writer/producer and president of LN Productions LLC, a production and media consulting company based in New York. Prior to founding LN Productions, Rodman served as an executive at NBC, where she launched the first missing children’s campaign in connection with the broadcast of the made-for-television movie Adam. Under Rodman’s leadership, LN Productions has produced specials for ABC, Lifetime, and Group W Television, as well as countless hours of a cable network programming. She is the author of numerous articles on subjects ranging from culture and media to education and health for newspapers such as The New York Times and magazines such as McCall’s.

As Deputy Consul General in New York, Israel’s largest mission, Shlomi Kofman coordinates the political work of the Consulate in the tri-state area, developing relations with national, state and local officials. He acts as liaison for the Ministry with the national and local leadership of the Jewish Community. In addition, he coordinates Inter-Faith dialogue and outreach nationally for the Foreign Ministry and its missions in the U.S. Earlier in his career, Kofman was officer of the desk of Chinese and Korean affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and prior to that Deputy Chief of Mission at the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai. More at http://embassies.gov.il/new-york/AboutTheEmbassy/Pages/Deputy-Consul-General.aspx.

Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.

Spies, Scholars & Statesmen: Amazing Stories about the Jews & the Japanese takes place Thursday, May 29, at 6:30 pm. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). Tickets are $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors and students, and may be purchased in person at Japan Society, at www.japansociety.org, or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258. For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit the website.

Lecture Programs at Japan Society are generously sponsored by Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. Japan Airlines is the exclusive Japanese Airlines sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. United Airlines is the exclusive U.S. Airlines sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. Additional support is provided by Chris A. Wachenheim, and the Sandy Heck Lecture Fund.

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Media Contacts:
Shannon Jowett, 212-715-1205, sjowett@japansociety.org
Kuniko Shiobara, 212-715-1249, kshiobara@japansociety.org

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