by Nissim Ben Shitrit, Ambassador of Israel
A Speech on the occasion of the Oomoto Setsubun Grand Festival in Ayabe February 3rd, 2008
Dear Madam Deguchi and distinguished members of Oomoto, I am most honored by your invitation to help you celebrate Setsubun, Oomoto’s most important festival, and I would like to thank you for inviting me.
The good relationship between Oomoto and the Embassy of Israel, which started in the year 2000, is significant and important to us. Like my predecessors, the former Israeli Ambassadors to Japan, I see your offer to come here and be with you as a privilege.
I arrived in Japan four months ago. During my short time here I have enjoyed learning about and exploring your interesting and beautiful country and I look forward to the sights to come.
I am far from being an expert on Shinto, but from the little I have learned, I must share with you my surprise at discovering many similarities between Shinto and Judaism.
It is common knowledge that nature is the essence of Shinto. Thanking and admiring nature for allowing us to live our lives. But did you know that in Jewish beliefs some of our religious holidays are also dedicated to honor and thank nature?
For example, each January we celebrate the new year of the trees, or arbor day, which we call Tu Bi-shevat.
In the past, it symbolized the beginning of the natural agricultural year in our part of the world. Now it is a symbol of the important role that nature plays in our lives.
Here is another example. Like university professors all over the world, who receive one-year sabbatical breaks, Israeli farmers are required, according to Jewish belief, to give their land one year off out of every seven years for renewal and rest.
Judaism shares with Shinto a great respect towards nature. Even now, with all the technology and our ability to control nature, we maintain our traditional ceremonies to show our gratitude to nature.
Besides these similarities between Shinto and Judaism, I believe there are other great similarities between Japan and Israel, and I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts regarding Japan-Israel relations for the years to come.
My homeland sometimes appears in the public eye as a one dimensional state – that is, a state in conflict. Needless to say, this is not what Israel is all about.
I have no desire to discuss with you tonight the current situation in the Middle East and the recently launched peace process. On this matter I can assure you that the leadership in Israel is sparing no effort to reach the right agreements.
However, I would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on some other aspects about Israel.
Japan and Israel, I believe, are among the oldest lands that serve as a homeland for a certain people. Therefore both countries proudly offer their visitors a combination of old and new.
In Japan, one can enjoy a traditional tea ceremony or relax in an onsen just a few minutes after observing the latest development in robotics in the middle of Tokyo, where activity never stops.
In similar ways, Israel also brings together history and cutting edge achievements. Israel is a fascinating mixture of ancient and modern.
Archeological sites that reveal secrets from thousands of years ago, highly honored contemporary art, exciting night life and, of course, natural treasures such as the Dead Sea and the Red Sea – all can be found in Israel. As such, Israel offers something of interest to every visitor who tours our country.
You can enjoy some Israeli cultural events and performances here in Japan. I would recommend you do this, but also that you take the time to come to Israel.
To summarize: I would like to see an increasing amount of tourism between our two countries. Real understanding of the nature of the two nations and what one has to offer the other can only be achieved by people who experience each other’s country.
Israel has a lot to learn from Japan in a variety of fields such as environmental legislation, industry and more. Japan could learn from Israel’s achievements in the pharmaceutical industry, the education system and other areas.
During my time of service here, I hope to help both nations strengthen their connection at all levels. I would like to ask you to help me in doing so in the hopes that our efforts will eventually be a driving force for peace.
Again, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts and plans with you and I hope I managed to persuade you to plan your next vacation to Israel.