Iran starts taking nuclear centrifuges offline


Iran has begun shutting down uranium enrichment centrifuges under the terms of a deal struck with six world powers in July on limiting its nuclear program, Tehran's atomic energy chief said on Monday during a visit to Tokyo.

“We have already started to take our measures vis-a-vis the removal of the centrifuge machines – the extra centrifuge machines. We hope in two months time we are able to exhaust our commitment,” Ali Akbar Salehi told public broadcaster NHK.

NHK's website also quoted Salehi as saying it was important that there be “balance” in implementing the deal, signaling Tehran's stance that all sanctions against Iran should be lifted promptly in step with its dismantling of nuclear infrastructure.

Under the July 14 agreement, Iran is to curb its nuclear program under United Nations supervision to ensure it cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon, in exchange for the removal of sanctions that have isolated Tehran and hobbled its economy.

In a separate development that appeared to confirm that Iran had begun implementing its side of the deal, 20 hardline conservative members of Iran's parliament wrote to President Hassan Rouhani to complain about the deactivation of centrifuges in two enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow.

“Unfortunately in the last two days some contractors entered Fordow and started dismantling centrifuges… they said they could finish the job in two weeks,” Fars cited the lawmakers, among those loath to accept the nuclear deal, as saying. 

Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, conditionally approved the deal last month, but the lawmakers said that beginning implementation so soon was against his directives.

Centrifuges spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope in uranium. Low-enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's stated goal, but can also provide material for bombs if refined much further, which the West has feared may have been Iran's latent goal.

Vandals destroy copies of Anne Frank’s diary in Japan


More than 100 copies of Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl” have been vandalized in public libraries in Japan’s capital Tokyo.

Pages have been ripped from at least 265 copies of the diary and other related books, Japanese officials told the BBC on Thursday. It is not clear who is behind the vandalism, they said.

Anne Frank’s diary was written during World War II, while the teenager hid from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam. The book made her a symbol of the suffering of Jews during the war.

The head of Japan’s library council, Satomi Murata, told the French AFP news agency that five of Tokyo’s wards had reported the vandalism so far. “We don’t know why this happened or who did it,” he added.

[Related: Behind Japanese fascination with Anne Frank]

Toshihiro Obayashi, a library official in West Tokyo’s Suginsami area, said, “Each and every book which comes up under the index of Anne Frank has been damaged at our library.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement that it was shocked and concerned by the incidents, and called for the authorities to investigate.

“The geographic scope of these incidents strongly suggest an organized effort to denigrate the memory of the most famous of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in the World War II Holocaust,” Associate Dean Abraham Cooper said.

Rotem Kowner, a professor of Japanese history and culture at Israel’s University of Haifa, told the BBC that the book has been exceptionally popular and successful in Japan.

He said that in terms of absolute numbers of copies of the book sold, Japan is second only to the United States.
About 30,000 Japanese tourists visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam every year, about 5,000 visitors more than the number of visitors from Israel.

Japan is also the only East Asian country with statues and a museum in memory of Anne Frank.

Tokyo bank freezes Iranian assets


A Japanese bank has halted transactions by the Iranian government in response to a U.S. court ordering a $2.6 billion asset freeze over the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut.

A spokesman for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UJF confirmed the move to the Agence France-Presse, on Thursday.

The court order reflects “the amount that the court in 2007 upheld for compensation demands by families of victims of the 1983 attacks on US forces in Beirut,” the spokesman said.

The bank lodged an appeal against the U.S. court order on Thursday, saying that the action is “problematic” under Japanese law. He would not reveal the amount of money involved or who held the assets. The spokesman, however, said the bank “handles a relatively large number of transactions for trade with Iran,” AFP reported.

The ruling stems from the Oct. 23, 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, which killed 24 U.S. troops. Tehran has denied responsibility for the attacks, but Washington subsequently named Iran on a list of terrorism-supporting states. A 2007 court ruling in the United States ordered Iran to pay $2.65 billion to victims’ families.

Opinion: In Japan, pride in the Jewish response to tsunami


As I sit here in Tokyo with the first anniversary of the tsunami fast approaching, I recall my surprise the first time a Japanese person thanked me, as a Jew, for Israel’s immediate response to the disaster. It was certainly not the time to instruct that well-meaning person that not all Jews are from Israel—the average Japanese does not make a distinction between them—so instead I proudly basked in the thought of Israel being the first country to come to Japan’s aid with its emergency field hospital.

The second time, however, I was not caught off guard: I had prepared a little speech in which I told of what the the Jewish Community of Japan, of which I am the rabbi, was doing together with the global Jewish community to help people in the face of crisis. I was able to report on stories of individual members of our community—mostly made up of American, European and Israeli Jews—who in the first hours after the disaster purchased tons of flour and food, and managed to deliver it to the displaced. I also told them about the many local Jews who organized food drives, raised money and took time from work to volunteer with the cleanup.

Most especially, I told them the tale of the 11-year-old girl from our thriving Hebrew school who singlehandedly organized the first bicycle drive through which she collected nearly 100 pairs of shoes to distribute in a destitute town in the north of Japan.

I have told these stories many times. But what really impresses the people here is the story of the almost instantaneous global Jewish response to the disaster. The effort came in many forms, such as Chabad, the Israeli field hospital or IsraAID. For us at the Jewish Community of Japan, the effort manifested itself in our partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which reached out to us within 24 hours of the earthquake offering its support.

In the first days after the disaster, those who remained in Japan felt the urgency to do something. This desire was combined with the fear and anxiety caused by the conflicting reports about the situation. It was a “time to act for the Lord,” but it was not clear what we could do. Some 2,000 Jews are living in Japan, and none of us had been affected irreversibly by the quake, thank God. However, the tragedy we faced as a nation was overwhelming.

As such, it was deeply important that our individual efforts at the time were soon combined with the help of those from outside Japan. It represented a powerful vehicle for us to act quickly and collectively on our natural desire to help. After all, we wanted our country to know that we care for her and her people, as the Talmud says, “at a time when the community is in distress, none should say: I’ll go to the privacy of my home and have a party.”

Since those early days, we have made a lasting impact on the life of tens of thousands of individuals. By combining the Jewish Community of Japan’s local guidance—including accessing our friends and family, business relationships and closeness to Japanese society—and the JDC’s expertise in disaster relief, we’ve put programs into action to support various groups in the disaster areas – for children, the deaf and hearing impaired, the elderly, the physically disabled and the displaced. Among our many achievements, we have brought in Israeli post-trauma specialists who have worked and trained the local social workers and teachers to help children suffering in fear, and found ways, in addition to our other work, to provide meals for those living in evacuation shelters and temporary housing.

But what I believe is the biggest success yet is the establishment of 13 community cafes in Ishinomaki, the town hit the hardest by the tsunami. I knew full well about these cafes, a venue for displaced people of the area to gather and receive informal psychological support while participating in activities, classes and programs, or plain, old-fashioned schmoozing.

I was pleasantly surprised to have another moment of Jewish pride, when at one of the many interfaith meetings I attend, a church minister lauded the cafes as a successful example of outreach and support. At that moment I could not help myself and expressed with true satisfaction that these cafes had been possible thanks to the generosity and expertise of the Jewish community. Seeing the look of positive surprise on the faces of my fellow clergy, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this the bread coming back to us upon the water?”

Perhaps no greater example of this connection between the Jews of Japan and our neighbors is our project to repair the Buddhist Komyogi Temple in Oshu. As part of the effort, we are creating a joint program to provide a respite for the beleaguered children of Rikuzentakata, a city devastated by the tsunami. Through children’s activities and numerous opportunities for exchange between our families and theirs, a dialogue between our communities will be built on the ideals of mutual responsibility and human compassion. All of this, of course, would not be possible without the support of Jews from abroad.

A constant source of “naches” for me as a rabbi, this outpouring of help speaks to one of the Jewish values I cherish most, tikkun olam. It also highlights, perhaps better than anything I have ever seen, the strengthening of bridges existing between the Japanese people and Israel and the Jews. Despite my initial reaction to the compliment from my Japanese neighbor, I have seen in the last year that we are one people. And together we can save lives, wherever in the world we are needed.

Antonio Di Gesu, a native of Italy and graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, is the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan.

Jewish gymnasts win medals at world championships


American Alexandra Raisman won a bronze medal in floor exercise for a routine choreographed to “Hava Nagila” at the 2011 World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo.

Raisman, 17, of suburban Boston also was the captain of the U.S. gold medal-winning squad in the absence of Alicia Sacramone, who was forced to withdraw due to injury.

Another Jewish gymnast also picked up a medal: Israeli Alexander Shatilov, 24, tied for a bronze in the men’s floor exercise final. The Uzbekistan native with his high finish qualified to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The Israeli men’s team did not qualify for the Games.

The World Gymnastics Championships ended Oct. 16.

Japan braces for potential radiation catastrophe as 140,000 could be affected


Japan faced a potential catastrophe Tuesday after a quake-crippled nuclear power plant exploded and sent low levels of radiation floating toward Tokyo, prompting some people to flee the capital and others to stock up on essential supplies.

The crisis appeared to escalate late in the day when the operators of the facility said that one of two blasts had blown a hole in the building housing a reactor, which meant spent nuclear fuel was exposed to the atmosphere.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km (18 miles) of the facility—a population of 140,000—to remain indoors amid the world’s most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Chabad ships food to quake-ravaged Japanese city


Chabad-Lubavitch centers in Tokyo and Hong Kong have shipped tons of food into one of the Japanese cities hardest hit by last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

The Tokyo-based Chabad-Lubavitch of Japan and the Hong Kong-based Chabad-Lubavitch of Asia have shipped bread, rice, noodles, soups, canned foods, flour and oil to the city of Sendai, Chabad.org reported.

The organization also has commissioned a bakery in Sendai to give out free bread. The bakery also will serve as the Jewish response’s command center, Chabad-Lubavitch of Japan director Rabbi Mendy Sudakevich told the website.

Sudakevich said he also has organized 50,000 ready-to-eat food rations to be flown in from the United States.

Meanwhile, several Israeli diplomats and their families stationed at the embassy in Tokyo returned home Monday for a temporary rest from the aftershocks, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said. The diplomats’ return is not connected to the possibility of more radiation leaks from nuclear power plants affected by the natural disasters, the ministry stressed.

Jewish groups mobilizing response to massive Japan earthquake and tsunami


Japan earthquake relief: How you can help

Jewish organizations are mobilizing their responses to the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday.

IsraAid, an Israel-based coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, said Friday that it has two teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists ready to deploy to Japan but was looking for ways to reach the affected area.

Because the airports in the affected area are flooded and Tokyo-area airports closed on Friday, IsraAid said it was exploring the possibility of flying to a nearby country and then trying to make it to northeast Japan, where the tsunami has killed hundreds and devastated cities and towns.

“We’re in touch with local groups to check the situation in the area,” Shachar Zahavi, chairman of the group, told JTA in a telephone interview. “We’re trying to get to the closest airport and then get to the affected area from there.”

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement reported that its emissary in Tokyo said the Jewish community there largely was spared any serious injury or damage from the 8.9-magnitude quake that rocked the city Friday morning.

ZAKA, the Orthodox-led rescue and recovery organization, announced Friday that it would send a search-and-rescue team to Japan as soon as Shabbat in Israel ended on Saturday night.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would help in whatever way possible.

The Japanese consul in Israel, Mitoshiko Shinomya, told the Israeli news webstie Ynet that he was heartened by the Israeli government’s offer of assistance. “Israel officially offered its help an hour after the earthquake struck,” Shinomya said. “It is very heart-warming, but at this point we do not know exactly what the extent of the damage is, so it is difficult for us to say what can be done.”

The Jewish Federations of North America is setting up an emergency relief fund to help those in affected areas, a spokesman said, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a federation partner, opened a mailbox Friday for donations to be used for Japan/Pacific disaster relief. Donations can be made at https://jdc.org/donation/donate.aspx.

“JDC is now conducting an up-to-the-minute assessment of the situation in Japan and the Pacific Rim and has activated its network of partners to determine critical, immediate needs of the hardest-hit areas,” the organization said in a statement Friday.

A spokesman for American Jewish World Service, which played a leading Jewish role in responding to the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, said it would not be responding to the Japan tsunami because AJWS, which works in the developing world, does not have any partner organizations in Japan.

Israeli movie takes top prize in Tokyo


An Israeli movie took the grand prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

“Intimate Grammar,” based on the Israeli novel “Book of Intimate Grammar” by David Grossman, was awarded the $50,000 Sakura Grand Prize Film Award on Sunday.

The film, directed by Nir Bergman, is about the son of Holocaust survivors growing up in Israel in the early 1960s.

“Intimate Grammar” also won the prize for best film at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival. It received 12 nominations for the Ophir Awards—Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Awards—but received none.

Bergman is the first director to win the Sakura Prize twice. He also won in 2002 for his first feature film, “Broken Wings.”

The Best Director prize was awarded to Gilles Paquet-Brenner for “Sarah’s Key,” a French movie about the fate of a Jewish family during World War II. The movie also won the Audience Award.