When one thinks about Jewish history in the 20th century, it is typically about Jews in Europe and the U.S., and, from the middle of the century, Israel. Rarely does one think about Asia as being significant in the history of the Jews. But, as this book “Pepper, Silk & Ivory” shows, Jews played a major role in Asia’s history as well.
Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, who served as the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan for 8 years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is one of the foremost experts on Jewish history in Asia. Together with writer and producer Ellen Rodman, he tells this history through a series of captivating, sometimes gripping, stories. In 23 well-researched and informative chapters, he unfolds the sometimes unbelievable stories of Jews who helped shape history around the continent and were shaped by it.
In this book you will read about the Jewish man who was a general in the Chinese army; the Jewish woman who insisted on including rights for women and children in Japan’s constitution (and succeeded); the Jewish banker who financed Japan’s victory against Russia in the 1904 war; the moving story of the Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II; the first Chief Minister of Singapore, a Jew; the origins of the giant conglomerate Shell Oil; and much, much more.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Tokayer in Tokyo many years ago, and last year again in Kobe. Listening to this man is like tuning in to a history documentary on Discovery Channel. This book is a monumental accomplishment, and one that every person interested in the history of the Jews should read.