Something as Simple as a Bread Roll: a Photo Essay from Sendai, Japan

by Erica Lyons

Jewish relief organizations are mobilizing and coordinating drives to collect funds, blankets and coats, but today Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon, of Chabad Asia, says that these people simply need bread. The availability of bread isn’t something we as Jews take lightly. We don’t use a catchall prayer of thanks to G-d for food. We specifically single out bread and recite the Hamotzi.

We have numerous bread rituals and place great importance on the number of loaves, their shape, and whether they are sweet or salty. On Shabbat we cover them. On Passover we abstain from them. Even in times of plenty, we know that bread is not a simple matter.

It is Monday night, most people are tired from a busy Purim weekend and ready to wind down, but Rabbi Avtzon is up thinking about bread. He is on the phone trying desperately to raise enough money to continue to fund Chabad’s bakery operation in Sendai. Yesterday alone Chabad estimates they fed a total of 6000 people while we attended our Megillah readings and Purim carnivals.

According to Chabad of Asia, their initiative, overseen by Roy Somech, the representative of the Chabad Relief Initiative in Sendai, is the primary organization actually handing out food in Sendai and the only relief organization filling this function in outlying areas. While other expatriots are evacuating, Roy Somech is busy baking and distributing bread.

According to Rabbi Avtzon, with partial funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) on behalf of the Jewish Coaltion for Disaster Relief, and in partnership with JHELP, the largest Japanese local NGO operating in the area, they are spending US $12,500 per day on bread alone and another US $3,500 per day on instant raman noodles for a supply that is far too small to meet local peoples’ needs. But the Japanese people have been patient. They queue in long lines in an orderly fashion to wait for a roll.

Rabbi Avtzon scrambles to find funding to keep their operation open for another day. One can’t help but wonder when the patience will run out. Will it be when there is no bread to be found? The Japanese people have been tested; first by earthquake, then by flood and then by the threat of radiation poisoning. Chabad of Asia’s humanitarian aid operation is trying to spare the people of Sendai from the test of hunger.

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Asian Jewish Life and eJewish Philanthropy are partnering together, leveraging our global contacts, to bring first-hand information on how the Jewish/Israeli world is responding on the ground in the aftermath of the Japanese quake. For more, see Japanese earthquake updates.