A Tale From Japan


By Masha Leon

Published November 12, 2004, issue of November 12, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“An Intimate Evening” to benefit The Neuropathy Association was held October 18 at Le Cirque. This potentially crippling and often misdiagnosed disorder “afflicts close to 20 million Americans and an estimated 300,000 New Yorkers” said TV anchor Chuck Scarborough, who shared the evening’s emcee spot with Pia Lindstrom, daughter of Ingrid Bergman.

“It is true that I started out in the Hollywood community,” said honoree Rev. Mother Dolores Hart, OSB, Prioress, Abbey of Regina Laudis. Hart, famous for her l950s and ‘60s stage and film work (“Where the Boys Are” and the Holocaust thriller “Lisa”), became a Benedictine nun in 1963. “When I heard ‘peripheral neuropathy’… which disrupts, destroys, the wiring system by which the body communicates with itself…. I’m telling you — religious or not — it’s like being in hell… I went to doctors for help. The final medical advice: ‘Get thee to a shrink.’ The final insult — pain is mental!”

“I finally got to Dr. Norman Latov, who said, ‘Mother, the pain is real.’ It was the best news I heard. I came to him in a wheelchair, and I’m standing here today because of him. To me, Dr. Latov — maybe it’s not the right thing to say — but any Jewish boy who can do that for me, is ‘The Second Coming.’” Dr. Latov, a professor of neurology and neuroscience, is the director of the Peripheral Neuropathy Clinical and Research Center at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Though diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in both hands in 1973, pianist Byron Janis performed a Chopin waltz. Janis, whose stellar credentials include national chairman of the committee for the faculty of the Visual and Performing Arts in America for Tel Aviv University, was joined by pianist and self-proclaimed “saloon singer” Bobby Short in a piano duet.

Among the guests were Maria Cooper (Mrs. Janis, daughter of Gary Cooper and an artist in her own right); Patricia Neal (a survivor of several strokes), who starred with Gary Cooper in the 1949 film “The Fountainhead”); Ambassador John Loeb Jr., and Joan and Arthur Sarnoff.

* * *

There they were, onstage at the Kaye Playhouse — Moishe, Cipora, Gita, Sheine — Jewish refugees from “Warszawa” (Warsaw), Poland, trapped in Lithuania in 1940 — all speaking Japanese! What a mind blower! “Senpo Sugihara, The Japanese Schindler” by Koichi Hiraishi, tells the story of Chiune Sugihara, Japanese consul in Kaunas, who issued 2,139 lifesaving visas to Japan against his government’s orders. Directors Hiraishi and Shoichi Yamada got it right — the time and place, the Nazi brutality, the confusion, the terror and panic under Soviet occupation. It is performed by a cast of 20 at high pitch; the consul, whose courage and conscience saved 6,000 Jews, including my mother and me (our visa #1882), is played by Sugihara look-alike Fumio Sato.

Among the October 21 opening-night crowd were Sugihara survivor Sylvia Smoller (who launched the Sugihara-inspired “Do the Right Thing” essay program, now under the auspices of the Anti-Defamation League); Ed Alster, ADL; Michael Miller, Jewish Community Relations Council; Linda Senat, American Jewish Committee, and Yiddish folklorist Chane Mlotek and her sons, Zalmen and Moishe (respectively, the executive director of the Folksbiene Theater and the artistic director of The Workmen’s Circle). As a young man, her late husband, Yosl (Joseph) Mlotek (former cultural editor of the Yiddish Forward/former education director of The Workmen’s Circle), shared my mother’s and my 1939-1941 Warsaw-Vilno-Kaunas-Moscow-Vladivostok-Japan odyssey.

At the October 24 reception, hosted by Consul General Hiroyasu Ando at his residence, I described (with the help of a translator), my wartime escapes to the “Sugihara” cast. I focused on a firing squad scene — inserted into this production (that was not in the 1998 version that played in New York) — that appears to be based on my personal story. There were gasps as I described the terror my mother and I felt when we had been given numbers and then lined up to be shot by a Nazi firing squad. I had told this story numerous times to the Japanese media and press in 1994 in Japan, and during subsequent interviews in New York. It is also detailed in Chapter 5 of “A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust” by Alison Leslie Gold (Scholastic, 2000).

* * *

Arafat is either dead, dying or sidelined… and I don’t think he’s going back to Ramallah,” Richard Holbrooke told the 750-strong crowd shoehorned into The Pierre’s ballroom for the November 4 State of Israel Bonds’s Real Estate and Construction Division lunch.

“For many years, Itzhak Rabin and he worked together… shared the Nobel [Peace] Prize,” said Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “And like [Shimon] Peres [felt] they could work with him…. I only met him four years ago… I watched him. He spoke for one to two hours… at the end of the time… I called the White House…. I’ve negotiated with a lot of evil people: Marcos, Milosevic.… Every instinct I had that day told me he was incapable or unwilling to make a deal. I’ll leave it to the historians to decide.”

Holbrooke described this as “a suspended moment in peril.” He said, “One issue above all will define America’s role in the world,” Then he said: “The path to peace in Jerusalem runs through Baghdad.’” Citing a Jaffe Institute appraisal, Holbrooke then said, “Israel is not safer because Saddam Hussein is out… Israel is less secure because Iraq is less secure.” Apropos the difference between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War, “where we knew who the enemy was… and there was somebody to talk to,” Holbrooke described this war as “fighting a series of shadowy enemies…. Al Qaeda and the terrorists… religious fanatics… just want to kill Americans and [no longer] have to fly planes into U.S. [buildings].”

Balancing the downside Iraq scenario was the announcement that the luncheon honoring Jonathan Mechanic, chairman of the real estate department of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, raised $60.1 million.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.