From March 7 to March 11, 2021, we held a panel exhibition at Chabad Tokyo in Sanno, Tokyo to introduce the relief activities conducted by Rabbi Binyomin and his friends in the wake of the Tohoku Tsunami disaster in 2011. The followings are the content of the panels.
The links to the explanation of the panels are below.
Rabbi Edery recounts: ‘’Friday afternoon, when the Tsunami hit Japan at 2:46 PM, the house was shaking very much, and we did not know what was happening. Guests came and told us that there was a huge Tsunami and enormous destruction in Tohoku. Saturday evening, we travelled immediately with a lot of relief to Tohoku. We distributed all that we had. When we started to travel back to Tokyo, we realized there was no gas station with gasoline in the pumps because the roads to Tohoku were broken. We hitchhiked back to Tokyo, with a nice ramen chef who came to visit his mother in Fukushima and he took me back to Gotanda station, it was midnight, I walked back by foot to Sanno, Ota-ku.’’
While standing near Gotanda station, Rabbi Edery saw a Yakiimo truck- Oishi Yakiimo. He asked the driver if he would be willing to drive up to Tohoku to give out Yakiimo. The driver was very hesitant and uncertain and said sorry No. Rabbi promised him a large salary and promised to provide all the Satsumaimo. He agreed.Rabbi Edery gave him cash money in advance and paid the rest when he arrived in Tohoku.
From that day on, the Rabbi Edery brought many tons of satsumaimo for the people of Tohoku and for many months distributed hot Yakiimo for free in many cities. Sendai Iwanuma, Watari, Ishinomaki. People expressed their love for Yakiimo, the familiar smell during those cold winter months in Tohoku, brought joy, comfort and hope.
Every morning, the Rabbi and his staff would wake up early, bake hundreds of satsumaimo in the truck’s oven and then serve them at 8 am to all the people in the centers.Then he would do more rounds throughout the day. Rabbi bought two additional ovens as one wasn’t enough to provide for all the people every day.
The hot Yakiimo was a comfort food during those difficult times. The older people loved it, and the mothers were delighted to serve hot, delicious and nutritious food for the babies and children and of course for themselves. This was easy to eat immediately. It worked like magic.
This was the main if not most original project that the Rabbi did during the Tsunami and in its aftermath. One child came over to the Rabbi and exclaimed: ‘’ Do you know what I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a Yakiimo truck driver! This way I will give out food to people and make them happy!’’.The governor of Miyagi ken, came himself to thank Rabbi Edery and his staff.
Rabbi Edery brought huge amounts of relief from Tokyo to Tohoku on a weekly basis for many months. To be exact, he rented 2 ton trucks, twice a week, packed with relief and necessities and then distributed it to many community centers in Tohoku.
How did the relief collection and distribution work?
Rabbi Edery requested National Azabu to put large baskets outside the store for people to put their contributions. One basket is for clothes, the second for dry foods, the third for all other things. People brought so much relief it had to be kept in the shop’s storage area until pick up.
Rabbi Edery and his volunteers came twice a week in the evening, and packed the two ton truck. That took a while as there was so much to lift.
All night long they drove up to Tohoku, and arrived in Iwanuma very early morning. Around 4 or 5 AM.
In Iwanuma, a friend’s parents’ house was used for unpacking and sorting.
Rabbi Edery and his friend arranged for a team of helpers from the city to come and help sort all the items, women’s clothes, kids clothes, shoes, coats, towels, food, baby food, toiletries , electrical appliances, blankets, soap/shampoo etc.
Then, government workers, Kuyakusho and city hall staff came to pick up all the relief. These staff came from many different cities, so all the arrangements had to be made with each city and when they could come to pick up.
In some cases the unpacking and sorting was done in the theater hall of the city hall, if there was space available. Then it was easier for the staff.
The items were arranged in an orderly and organized fashion for the people to come and choose and take what they needed and liked.
Basically it looked like a Bazaar, except it was for free. This system was organized and people were very happy to have this great opportunity to get what they needed, right where they were staying temporarily. Since there were no shops open, and trucks with merchandise could not travel on the broken roads to Tohoku. Only relief workers were given a special permit by the police department to use the highways. Rabbi Edery received such a permit making it possible for him and his staff to do this incredible work of relief and distribution.
Rabbi Edery organized many groups of volunteers every time he drove up to Tohoku he brought with him Chabad House staff, members and volunteers. Some were students in Japan, some just simple people who wanted to help. Some were Japanese friends. There were many Rabbis in Asia, all colleagues of Rabbi Edery, who also run volunteer organizations of their own who heard about the great destruction that happened in Japan. They wanted to come and assist. Rabbi Edery arranged for the flights, accommodations and food. Rabbis from India, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, all came to Japan to join Rabbi Edery in his relief work. They drove up to Tohoku and distributed large amounts of relief in the city hall centers instilling in the people hope and support. They came with a message: Even though we may look outwardly different but inside we all have a heart and need to care and feel responsible for each other. G-d Almighty created us all.
The Rabbi’s organized a conference in Hilton Shinjuku to think and plan how to help people in distress and difficulty.
One of the members of Chabad house of Japan, who lived in Japan for many years, heard about the Rabbi’s relief activities. Rabbi Edery asked him to join the efforts to help. This friend designs and makes clothes and sells in his shops and online. He packed very large amounts of his brand clothes and brought it up to Tohoku to distribute together with Rabbi Edery.
He decided to make T-shirts for the people there, with a message of hope for the future. On the front of the T-shirt it said: ‘’Strong Spirits Rebuild Japan’’. On the back of the T-shirt it said: Save Electric, Save Gasoline, Save Water, help each other with Yamato Damashi’’. (Because of the nuclear plant in Fukushima that broke and was endangering people with radiation, the idea was that with the strong Japanese spirit we can overcome all difficulties).
These T-shirts were a big hit and were worn by all the people at events. It gave a feeling of solidarity and unity that ‘’together we will overcome this Tsunami’s destruction.’’.