With the opening of Japan to the world in the middle of the 19th century, foreign traders began arriving here, settling in the main port cities: Yokohama, Nagasaki, Kobe, and Hakodate. Among them were Jews – from Russia, India, Iraq, Syria, and other places. The Jews in Kobe, located in the Kansai region, lived mostly in the Kitano neighborhood.
In 1912 the “Jewish Community of Kansai” was established, an organization that operates to this day. This is the only Jewish community in Japan that has been operating continuously for more than a hundred years.
During the Second World War, the community took in Jews who escaped from Europe using transit visas issued by the Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara, the Japanese consult in Lithuania, and a Righteous Among Nations. The Jewish Community Center was destroyed by US Air Force bombs in 1945, and the Sephardi community moved to a warehouse which also served as a synagogue. In 1968 the warehouse was purchased through donations by the community members, and its location became the ‘Ohel Shelomo’ synagogue, named after the father of the synagogue’s founder, Rahmo Sassoon. The cornerstone of the synagogue was laid down in 1970, as is noted on a plaque at the south-western corner of the building.
During the 1970s, following an order from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a mikveh was built by the Rebbe’s emissary, Rabbi Avraham Feigelstock, currently serving as the rabbi of Vancouver, Canada. In 1995 a major earthquake hit Kobe, causing thousands of deaths, and destroying vast areas of the city. The community center was lightly damaged, and the building became a shelter for many of the neighborhood’s residents.
In the beginning of the 2000s new members joined the community, breathing fresh air into its activity. From 2005 onwards the community is managed by the same board: President – Tony Yair Levy; Treasurer – Motti Maio; and board members Daniela Shinozuka, Moshe Gino, and Ohad Elharar.
In early 2014, rabbi Shmulik Vishedsky, his wife Batya, and their children arrived in Kobe, on behald of the global Chabad organization. Under the leadership of the head of Chabad in Japan, rabbi Mendi Sudekevitch, a Bet Chabad was opened in the community center, serving the south-western region of Japan. Rabbi Vishedsky is the community’s rabbi and works with the community hand in hand, with a mission to be an address for every Jew, in every Jewish matter.