Rabbi Levi Wolff’s Tribute To A Japanese Hero – An Update

Rabbi Levi Wolff’s documents now added

My interview with Rabbi Levi Wolff

at Central Synagogue, Bondi Junction, Sydney

on 15 December 2014

Rabbi Levi Wolff talked about the visit to Sydney of Kei Sugihara, great grandson of Chiune Sugihara as well as Rabbi Wolff’s own family connection to the Japanese hero who saved so many Jewish lives.

Rabbi Levi Wolff

Rabbi Wolff’s maternal grandfather Rabbi Yechezkel Deren was a 13-yr-old boy studying in a yeshiva in Poland. The family fled Poland to Kaunas, Lithuania, where Sugihara issued a visa. When Japan entered the war, Yechezkel Deren was amongst those who moved to Shanghai



DEREN, Chaskiel Sugihara 2 Visa Date 20 Aug

DEREN, Chaskiel Sugihara 1


An emotional meeting with an icon’s great-grandson

December 5, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
Read on for article

Descendants of Jews who escaped Nazi Europe through the heroic actions of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, have met his great-grandson in Sydney.

“Sempo” Sugihara was a Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania who ignored instructions from Tokyo in 1940 and issued exit visas to an estimated 6,000 Jews who successfully escaped the Nazi persecution in World War II.

Visas were also issued ignoring instructions to thousands who were unable to get out of Europe many of whom perished in the Nazi death camps. The exact number of Jews who received visas from Sugihara is unknown but estimates put the number of family visas he issued around 6,000.

Many put the figure of those Jews who are alive today because of Sugihara’s bravery at around 40,000.

For those who made it to Kobe in Japan, life was relatively peaceful as they made their homes amongst the Russian Jewish community which had lived there for over 100 years. But all changed after Pearl Harbour and Japan’s entry into the war and the Kobe-based European Jews were sent to Shanghai. Many moved again to other parts of the world…including Australia.

At The Sydney Jewish Museum, representing their families, Rabbi Levi Wolff, John Roth, Victor Grynberg met Keisuke Sugihara, the 21-yr-old great-grandson of Sugihara on his first visit to Australia.

Accompanying Grynberg were his grandchildren Asher, 13, Maya, 11 and Tali 11 who are the great-grandchildren of the late Dora and Oscar Grynberg who travelled to Kobe on visas issued by Sugihara.

Asher Grynberg, Rabbi Levi Wolff, Keisuke Sugihara, John Roth, Maya Grynberg, Victor Grynberg and Tali Grynberg

Keisuke or Kei as he prefers to be known has his great-grandfather’s surname only because his mother, Sugihara’s granddaughter, persuaded her husband Nakamura to adopt it in July this year so that it may live on.  Kei explained: “This year my 19-yr-old sister started university so the family thought this would be a good time to change the name.” He told J-Wire the change had been effected specifically to ensure that his great-grandfather’s name would be remembered.

Rabbi Levi Wolff shows Asher Grynberg and Keisuke Sugihara his grandfather's photograph

Kei Sugihara believed that his great-grandfather had followed his human instincts in doing what he did saying “I am very proud of him”. Kei was six years old when he  first heard of great grandfather’s life-saving actions. “I learned about it in my elementary school text books and I remember  my father telling me ‘your great grandfather saved a lot of people’.”

On his trip to Australia Kei Sugihara has met Jewish people for the first time in his life…but it won’t be the last. He plans to meet members of other families who are descendants of those his grandfather saved in other parts of the world.

John Roth, Victor Grynberg and Rabbi Levi Wolff told Kei stories of their families’ experiences with Grynberg pointing out that his older brother had been born in Kobe and that John Roth’s father had been the sandek at his brit.

Rabbi Levi Wolff said: “The thousands that he saved had hundred and hundreds of descendants. We’re talking about around forty thousand people are alive today because one man didn’t allow his conscience to let him sleep at night. The power of one is unbelievable.”

Rabbi Wolff told Kei Sugihara: “Your great-grandfather could not handle the fact people were being persecuted and being killed. He could have turned a blind eye to it but he put his life in danger because he felt that it was the right thing to do.”

Rabbi Levi Wolff, Victor Grynberg. Maya Grynberg, Keisuke Sugihara and John Roth

He told Sugihara’s great-grandson that the Japanese consul would not allow what most of the world was turning a blind eye to.

Rabbi Wolff told those gathered at the museum that when Sugihara’s family was traced after the war every effort was made to help them telling Kei that his grandparents were sent to university in Israel.

Rabbi Levi Wolff’s mother’s father Rabbi Yechezkel Deren was a 13-yr-old boy studying in a yeshiva in Poland. The family fled Poland arriving in the Lithuanian city in which Sugihara was based eventually getting a visa from him. As Japan entered the war Rabbi Deren was amongst those who moved to Shanghai. Rabbi Wolff said: “We never knew the story as my grandfather never spoke about it. It was hard for many to relive the experience. He lost everybody in his family except for his sister.” He told Kei that in 1980 Readers Digest did a story on his great-grandfather. That’s when those he had saved sought to find him and his family. He saved more Jews than Schindler.”

Victor Grynberg explained that Schindler had made commercial use of the Jews he saved and that Sugihara had not charged anything for the visas he issued even though some of them may have been onsold.

Rabbi Levi Wolff told J-Wire: “The Jewish people have long memories. We not only remember those who wish to destroy us but we also remember those who stood up for us when others tried to eradicate us. We will not forget what Kei Sugihara’s great-grandfather did for us. I am eternally grateful. Meeting Kei was like paying a debt of gratitude on behalf of my grandfather.”

Victor Grynberg added: “I took Kei to Sydney’s Moriah College and proudly showed him how the Roth and Grynberg families who had benefited from his great-grandfather’s achievements had contributed to the community in which they now live. Meeting Kei has been a highly emotional experience. I remember my late mother at the age of 90 touring provincial area with Courage to Care telling the Sugihara story.”

For John Roth the meeting was hard to grasp. he told J-Wire: “It is hard to comprehend the enormity of what his great-grandfather achieved. Rabbi Wolff choked on his words when he made reference to the 40,000 who live today because of Sugihara’s actions and bravery. I did too.”

When Kei visits Rabbi Wolff’s congregation on Shabbat at Sydney’s Central Synagogue, he will receive a framed Talmudic saying from Rabbi Levi Wolff…”He Who Saves One Life it is as if he has saved an entire world.”

Before returning to Japan to continue his education studies ahead of a hoped-for career in diplomacy, Keisuke Sugihara will travel to Queensland’s Bundaberg to pick fruit.  But his life’s plan also includes extensive world travel and more meetings with Jews who owe their existence to Chiune “Sempo” Sugihara.

A photograph of Sugihara is on permanent exhibition at the Sydney Jewish Museum.

If you or someone you know is a descendant email sugihara@jwire.com.au and J-Wire will pass on your details to Keisuke.

Chiune Sugihara

Chiune Sugihara

Native name  杉原 千畝
Born 1 January 1900 Yaotsu, Gifu, Japan. Died 31 July 1986 (aged 86)Kamakura, Kanagawa, JapanNationalityJapanese
Other names”Sempo”, Pavlo Sergeivich Sugihara
OccupationVice-Consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania. Known forRescue of some ten thousand Jews during the Holocaust
Religion Eastern Orthodox Church
Spouse(s)Klaudia Semionovna Apollonova (m. 1919; div. 1935)Yukiko Kikuchi (m. 1935)
Righteous Among the Nations (1985)
Chiune Sugihara (杉原 千畝 Sugihara Chiune?, 1 January 1900 – 31 July 1986) was a Japanese diplomat who served as Vice-Consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania. During World War II, he helped several thousand Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan. Most of the Jews who escaped were refugees from German-occupied Poland and residents of Lithuania. Sugihara wrote travel visas that facilitated the escape of more than 6,000 Jewish refugees to Japanese territory, risking his career and his family’s lives. Sugihara had told the refugees to call him “Sempo”, the Sino-Japanese reading of the characters in his first name, discovering it was much easier for Western people to pronounce.[1] In 1985, Israel honored him as Righteous Among the Nations for his actions.
For more, visit the Shanghai Kehilalink at:


2. My visit to the Sugihara House Museum in Kaunas, Lithuania in May.






Students with their lecturer, Raimundas Kaminskas. I was asked to address them – May 2014



The Museum’s guide, Ramunas Janulaitis.






3. Nine Forth, Kaunas 2012




4. Reprinted from J-Wire with permission of Henry Benjamin

Heritage Walk in New York – Midtown East

My guide was Oscar Israelowitz’s book: Jewish Heritage Trail of New York.




Stop 144: Central Synagogue

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 9.07.42 am

Designed in 1872 in the Moorish Revival style, inspired by the Dohany Street synagogue in Budapest. Restored after a major fire in 2002. The community house is across the street.

Central Synagogue NYhttp://www.centralsynagogue.org

Central Synagogue

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Central Synagogue
Central Synagogue Lex jeh.jpg

Looking west across Lexington Avenue and 55th at the Central Synagogue. (January 2010)
Basic information
Location 646-652 Lexington Avenue,
ManhattanNew York City,
 United States[1]
Geographic coordinates 40.759592°N 73.970473°WCoordinates40.759592°N 73.970473°W
Affiliation Reform Judaism
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Synagogue
Status Active
Website centralsynagogue.org
Architectural description
Architect(s) Henry Fernbach[2]
Architectural type Neo Gothic
Architectural style Moorish Revival
Direction of façade ESE
Groundbreaking 1872
Completed 1873
Length 40 meters (130 ft)
Width 25 meters (82 ft)
Width (nave) 14 meters (46 ft)
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Added to NRHP: October 9, 1970 [4]
NRHP Reference No. 70000423 [4]
Designated asNHL: May 15, 1975[3]

The Central Synagogue (Congregation Ahavath Chesed) is located at 652 Lexington Avenue on the corner of E 55th StreetManhattanNew York CityNew York. Built in 1872 in the Moorish Revival style as a copy of Budapest‘s Dohány Street Synagogue,[5] it pays homage to the Jewish existence in Moorish Spain.[1] It has been in continuous use by a congregation longer than any other in the city.[6][7] The building was designed by Henry Fernbach.

The dramatic style of the building was the subject of much debate during the construction. Some felt its excess would inspire envy and stand in the way of assimilation.[8]

It is among the oldest synagogue buildings still standing in the United States.[9] It was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 15, 1975.[3][6] On Wednesdays at 12:45 p.m. a docent conducts a free tour, which begins at the front entrance.

The building was restored by 2001 in the original style after an accidental fire in August 1998.[10] The roof and its supports were destroyed as a result of the fire. During this fire, the firefighter’s sensitivity for the building saved all but the central pane in the rose window that dominates the eastern (Lexington Avenue) wall. The marble plaques on the north wall of the foyer honor the firefighters of the 8th Battalion of the New York City Fire Department.

The synagogue owns the Salem Fields Cemetery, Brooklyn.


Sensitive to the evolving interests and needs of the Reform community, Central Synagogue explores both traditional and alternative modes of prayer. In addition to daily morning minyan, Shabbat and holiday services, and celebrations of lifecycle events, Central Synagogue offers havurot (Jewish study groups), Tot Shabbat and Tyke Shabbat for children, and healing and community services. Interfaith celebrations include an annual community Thanksgiving and Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day.) Other special services include the annual Shofar Award Shabbat, which honors a Jew of distinction and inspiration. Past recipients include journalist David Halberstam and James Ingo Freed, architect of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Notable Clergy

See also

Here are some of my photos:

Inside. There are tours on Wednesdays at 12:45

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Scenes around 47th Street, the Diamond District

Diamond District

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Location of the Diamond District in Manhattan.
Coordinates: 40°45′24″N 73°58′44″WCoordinates40°45′24″N 73°58′44″W
Country United States
State New York
County New York County
City New York City
Borough Manhattan

The Diamond District is an area of New York City located on West 47th Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) in midtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many New York attractions. It is located one block south of Rockefeller Center, three blocks south of Radio City Music Hall (along the Avenue of the Americas), three blocks south of St Patrick’s Cathedral (along Fifth Avenue), and one block east of the Broadway Theater District. The Plaza Arcade, lined with shops, connects the street to Rockefeller Center.

The district was created when dealers moved north from an earlier district near Canal Street and the Bowery that was created in the 1920s, and from a second district located in the Financial District, near the intersection of Fulton andNassau Streets, which started in 1931. The move uptown started in 1941. The district grew in importance when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands and Belgium, forcing thousands of Orthodox Jews in the diamond business to fleeAntwerp and Amsterdam and settle in New York City. Most of them remained after World War II, and remain a dominant influence in the Diamond District.[1]

A notable, long-time anomaly of the district was the famous Gotham Book Mart, a bookstore, which was located at 41 West 47th Street from 1946 to 2004.

The area is one of the primary centers of the global diamond industry (along with London — rough stones; the Antwerp diamond district in Belgium — historical but waning; MumbaiIndia — increasing in significance, Ramat GanIsrael — also growing, and JohannesburgSouth Africa — the major historical source), as well as the premier center for jewelry shopping in the city. An estimated 90% of diamonds in the United States enter through New York.


Total receipts for the value of a single day’s trade on the block average $400 million.[2]There are 2,600 independent businesses located in the district, nearly all of them dealing in diamonds or jewelry. Most are located in booths at one of the 25 “exchanges” in the district. Many deals are finalized by a simple, traditional blessing (mazel und brucha[1]) and handshake. The Diamond Dealers Club — also known as the DDC — is an exclusive club that acts as a de facto diamond exchange and has its own synagogue. Retailers with shops line the streets outside. Above the bazaar is theGemological Institute of America which trains gem dealers.

My images:

Stop 143: The New York Public Library

NY Public Library

Dorot Jewish Division



Stop 137: Oldest Ashkenazic Congregation




B’nai Jeshurun

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue and Community House
Congregation B’Nai, March 2009
Location 257 W. 88th St. and 270 W. 89th St., New York, New York
Coordinates 40°47′24″N73°58′35″WCoordinates40°47′24″N 73°58′35″W
Area 0.9 acres (0.36 ha)
Built 1917
Architect Schneider,Walter S.; Et al.
Architectural style Late 19th And Early 20th Century American Movements, Semitic Revival
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 89000474[1]
Added to NRHP June 2, 1989

Front door

B’nai Jeshurun is a synagogue in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City.


Founded in 1825, Bnai Jeshurun was the second synagogue founded in New York and the third-oldest Ashkenazisynagogue in the United States.

The synagogue was founded by a coalition of young members of congregation Shearith Israel and immigrants and the descendants of immigrants from the German and Polish lands. It was the stated intention to follow the “German and Polishminhag (rite).”[2] The order of prayers followed that of the Ashkenazi Great Synagogue of London and sought the guidance of the British chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell on matters of ritual. The congregation dedicated its first building on Elm Street in Manhattan in 1827.

The first rabbi, Samuel Isaacs, was appointed in 1839. By 1850, the congregation had grown large enough to make it necessary to build a new synagogue on Green Street.

In 1865, the congregation moved yet again, to a new building on 34th Street, the parcel later part of the site of the flagshipMacy’s store. Driven by the rapid expansion of the city, they moved yet again in 1885 to Madison Avenue at 65th Street. That building was designed by Rafael Guastavino and Schwarzmann & Buchman.

The present building, located at 257 West 88th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue was dedicated in 1917. It was designed by Henry B. Herts, a congregant and celebrated theater architect, with Walter S. Schneider.[3] In addition to its place on the National Register of Historic Places, the synagogue was included in the New York City Riverside Drive-West End Historic District created in 1990. The muqarna-studded ceiling was redesigned following its collapse during renovations in the early 1990s and was replaced with a future-invoking space frame back-lit to simulate a nighttime sky[2].

Breakaway congregations

B’nai Jeshurun’s original founders broke from the city’s only synagogue, Shearith Israel, in 1825, in order to create an Ashkenazi congregation. Subsequently, B’nai Jeshurun members broke away to form new shuls several times.

In 1828, at a time of rapid growth in the New York Jewish community, a group left B’nai Jeshurun to found Ansche Chesed.[4]

In 1845, Temple Shaaray Tefila was founded by 50 primarily English and Dutch Jews who had been members of B’nai Jeshurun.[5][6]


B’nai Jeshurun took a leading role in founding the Board of Directors of American Israelites in 1859. When the Board of Delegates merged with the (Reform) Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1878 the congregation went along, but in 1884 it left the Reform Movement. Two years later, it also supported the founding of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) in 1886, a school formed to support Orthodoxy in combating the Reform movement.

In 1889, the congregation published its own edition of the prayer book.

When Solomon Schechter used JTS to create a more conservative set of reforms to traditional Judaism, B’nai Jeshurun joined his United Synagogue of America, now the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

In the 1990s the congregation left the Conservative movement and is now independent.


A spiritual and demographic renaissance began in 1985, with the arrival of Rabbi Marshall Meyer.

Notable clergy

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