She insists on being called Chemda. He insists on being called Yosef. They are both resolute on speaking Hebrew and nothing short of eloquent Hebrew. Yet, they are not Israelis. Neither are they Jewish. They are both Japanese.
Chemda and Yosef run the Makuya Center in Jerusalem. ”Makuya, in Japanese,” Yosef explained to me when I first met him and Chemda, “is equivalent to the Hebrew words Ohel Moed.” Yosef was referring, of course to the Mishkan, the Holy Tabernacle that housed the ark of the covenant during the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 29:42–43).
The Makuya is a new religious movement founded in Japan in 1948 by Professor Abraham Ikuro Teshima. Himself, an ardent Christian believer, Teshima opposed the dogmatic, institutionalized approach of the European Churches. He tried to revive the distressed spiritual condition of postwar Japan by emphasizing the importance of a personal experience of encountering G-d. “Even today,” he wrote once, “the G-d of Israel is living and vividly intervenes in the human society with His abundant goodness and mercy.” Among the cherished religious beliefs of the Makuya are those of Rabbi A.H. Kook, Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel. The movement deeply identifies with and strongly supports the cause of Israel unconditionally.
Makuya, which counts about 50,000 members is active in Japan, United States, Brazil and other countries. Its center in Jerusalem has served as a place for students’ lodging, studying and praying.
The Center was founded in order to realize professor Teshima’s vision of awarding the Makuya youth with the unique experience of visiting and spending time in Israel. These young people get to visit the country from north to south. They come into contact with modern day pioneers. They are educated about Herzel, Ben Gurion and other Jewish/Israeli heroes. They witness how Israelis dedicate their lives to turn visions into realities, making the impossible possible. These young men and women experience communal lives by spending time on a kibbutz, mingling with its members and sharing their life with them.
Inspired by the rebuilding of Israel, these Japanese youth then return home with a sense of mission, love for and appreciation of their own country.
I met one of these young people. She calls herself Liora. She came to Israel for one year. She already speaks fluent Hebrew and is looking forward to coming back and spending more time helping and supporting the Jewish state.
One aspect of the Makuya customs that captivated me is their characteristic of Hitlahavut (exuberant joy). The occasion of the meeting between Yosef, Cheda, Liora and myself was on Rosh Hashanah at the home of some mutual friends. At the end of the delectable dinner, carried in the best Yemanite tradition, the three produced a booklet with Hebrew songs. We all, as one, joined in the joy of the Hebrew lyrics and beautiful engulfing music that brought memories of my childhood, the kind that elevate the spirit and reinforce our strong connection to Eretz Yisrael, the Homeland of the Jewish people, the Land for which our friends at the Makuya and many of us bear great love.
In the name of many of my fellow Israelis, I want to thank our dear friends of the Makuya for their unrelenting love and support and wish them every blessing for the coming Jewish year and always.