The Waiting Game Has Just Begun

[eJP note: on Monday, in A Japanese Jewish Family in Hong Kong Reaches Out, we introduced you to Brian and Mayumi Brenner. Here’s an update.]

by Erica Lyons

It is well after 11 pm in Hong Kong and Brian Brenner is up doing math. “The US State Department has warned that you should evacuate the area if you are within a 50 mile band of the Daichi plant,” he says, “Using Google maps, I found that Mayumi’s family in Mito/Hitachinaka City is 120 kilometers or approximately 74 miles away from the plant. They are safe for now.”

With Mayumi’s parent, siblings and other family members living near the plant, until there is clearance that the nuclear facilities are not a threat, the sleepless nights will continue. They are rightfully obsessed with the myriad of conflicting media reports and second hand information flooding in. It is overwhelming, frustrating. They realize that for now it is really a waiting game as there is little that they can do from the safety of their home in Hong Kong. They field streams of concerned calls from friends from their children’s school and from the synagogue. Though Mayumi Brenner is speaking daily with her family members as well as friends from the local prefecture, they have few real answers themselves.

The Brenners have though managed to send funds directly to the family. Banks in the Mito/Hitachinaka City area are working but in order to collect those funds, his father-in-law must spend the better part of his day standing in a massive queue. Survival amounts to the ability to have cash in hand as you can’t use credit cards. Brian explains that his family lives on monthly paychecks so they do not necessarily have cash readily available.

What will cash buy you? There are no fresh foods available. The fish that was the staple of their diet is no more. Again waiting, now in long queues in the grocery store will get them raman noodles and maybe some limited canned goods plus the rationed two bottles of water they are allotted per day per person. They are also limited to about 4-5 items on their trips to the store. While there are news reports of people as far away as Texas stockpiling iodine tablets, here where the threat of radiation contamination is real, there is no such protection available.

The ability to buy gas for a car has quickly become a real luxury. “They are really just hungry,” Brian explains, “Not panicked.” While there are food drives being organized, there is no way to get the food to them because roads in are not passable yet. Brian is concerned that any food sent in will sit elsewhere and rot.

A very real immediate problem is the scarcity of water. Two bottles a day per person does not allow for even the possibility of bathing or washing clothing. It has to be strictly for drinking and cooking. His father-in-law was able to find a neighbor with a well and they filled buckets to somewhat supplement this meager allotment. They are told that there will be no water supply for at least two more weeks.

The local Jewish community of Hong Kong, like other communities worldwide, has band together to show support for family’s like the Brenner’s in Japan. There is real empathy and the frustrated need to take some action immediately. The Brenner’s have offered boxes of old clothing. Brian explains that while this is an incredibly nice gesture on behalf of community members, the key is providing the type of aid that is most needed.

There is the very real concern that the immediate, massive fund raising efforts and ensuing shipments of goods will have been in haste. Brian warns that the second wave of need, when the world has forgotten the story, is going to be great.

Mayumi's family's home in Mito/Hitachinaka City

He talks about the family’s home and is very eager to share photos of it. “They had a very nice home, a really nice home. I have been looking at photos of their home again and again wondering what it looks like now.” Like many homes, theirs suffered some pretty serious damage in the quake. They are told that there are over 20,000 damaged homes in the Ibarikiken Prefecture alone, the largest total in Japan. The Brenner’s family has vacated the second story of their home as the home is unstable and likely has structural damage though any real assessment is not practical now. They must stay indoors because of the threat of radiation and the local fire department is overburdened with calls. They are all crowded into a few rooms downstairs, waiting.

While the local Hong Kong Jewish community has already mobilized, Brian hopes that there will be something left for the real aftermath when the full extent of the damage has been assessed. He cautions that we need to wait to see what the real long term needs will be and not just quickly and absently throw money at big charities and at a situation that isn’t fully understood. He worries that as givers, we will lose interest long before needs are met. For the future, the Brenner’s are looking into organizations that will be able to help uninsured homeowners to rebuild.

As Brian concludes, “The aid that we are seeing coming in is such a wonderful gesture. We all love Japan and all of us have a bit of Japan in us; whether it is food, technology, pop culture, animation or in my case, family. I am committed to seeing a brighter tomorrow so even though there may be hard days to come, I know that the outcome of this will be stronger than before.”

To follow their journey, visit the Brenner’s family blog.

Be sure to also read, Bakery Operations in Sendai Underway.

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.