• Rabbi Theodore Tsuruoka: Ideal Guest Speaker for “Farewell to Manzanar”

    This Sunday at 12:30 the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC)  will screen the film “Farewell to Manzanar,” and Rabbi Theodore Tsuruoka will talk with us about it, bringing in his own family’s incarceration and raising the broader issues involved.   Knowledgeable of both the Japanese and Jewish experience during the war, he offers a unique perspective to help us explore the significance of these deplorable events.

    Born and raised Christian as a second generation Japanese, teen-aged Theodore began searching for God outside his inherited faith and formally converted to Judaism in his early twenties.  At fifty-two, after twenty years in business, realizing he needed to do something more satisfying, he enrolled in the Academy for Jewish Religion’s Rabbinic program and graduated six years later.  Since that time, he has served as Spiritual Leader for the Reform Temple Isaiah in Great Neck.

    The Rabbi’s parents and grandparents were relocated from California to an internment facility in Posten, Arizona, and his parents actually met in the camp.  Notwithstanding the unfairness of the shocking  forced transfer, the restrictions and discomfort of their circumstances, and the loss of most of their possessions, his family didn’t feel their situation to be unbearable, says the Rabbi, probably due to the Japanese stoic mentality.  For years afterward, similar to many survivor families, there wasn’t much talk about what had happened.  Eventually, though, some resentment was expressed, although it never hardened into a “chip on the shoulder” attitude toward America.

    Struck by the parallels between the Japanese and Jewish camp experiences, one of the Rabbi’s congregants and long-term HMTC Educators asked him if he’d be interested in presenting his views and family’s stories and facilitating a discussion.  The Rabbi agreed, recognizing the opportunity to raise awareness that “since it happened in this country, it could happen again” and to promote reflection on what it might take “so that it won’t happen again.”

    Although our government eventually formally apologized for harm caused by the illegal incarceration and awarded each victim twenty thousand dollars in reparations, this breach of justice left an indelible red stain on the American conscience. The questions of how we deal with human and minority rights, particularly in times of fear and duress, are vital concerns for all of us who wrestle with the legacy of the Holocaust.

    I encourage you to see this film and participate in what promises to be an enlightening conversation.  With Rabbi Tsuruoka’s guiding wisdom, we can put our hearts and minds together to create greater understanding of how to deal with the bigotry threatening our world.

    • Frank Miller-Small



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