Once a month, I head to Tohoku, which 10 years after the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 that followed, is still a place that’s totally transformed.
Before the earthquake, this rural, coastal area looked much like other ordinary residential towns in Japan. But people’s homes, livelihoods and senses of normalcy were all washed away. The land has yet to recover, and in some places it’s still too dangerous to rebuild permanent structures here. However, there are lots of memories and there is also a lot of hope. Every month when I stay for two weeks at the prefecture, hope is what I am focused on.
Despite all the devastation, there are seeds that are growing. One of those blossoming is the Menorah International Leadership Center, a community and leadership center built by my organization, NPO Celia Circle. It allows the people that once lived there to come together and be their most authentic selves. I’m Indonesian, Jewish, a musician and a businessperson. After the tsunami, a former Israeli Ambassador asked me to assist Israeli volunteers travelling to Japan to aid the people of Tohoku immediately after the earthquake. After their mission ended, I continued to provide support to the residents of temporary housing, local nursery schools and kindergartens. I would come and visit the children every month, teaching them art, dancing and, showing them the power that music and culture have in bringing light into our lives during the darkest moments.
But in a place where so much has been wiped away, I realized I wanted to build something that would last. Thus, the idea of the Menorah International Leadership Center was born, providing a place where trauma can be spoken of openly, something that is unique in Japanese culture. Creativity is also used there as a therapeutic force for good. In a corner of the earth where so much was taken away, NPO Celia Circle has built a safe space to gather again. It’s powerful, and I’m honored to be a part of the region’s recovery.
And as we’re growing a community here in Watari Town, Miyagi Prefecture, we’re also growing something more palpable — rice.