By Mrs. Bassy Pekar, Kadena AB.
We dreamed about it only in the whispers that befit fantasies of such unrealistic proportions. We talked about it quietly as though if we weren’t too demanding, too hopeful, it might happen. And when it did happen, when we finally received the astounding news, we celebrated with naïve excitement. The truth is, I didn’t really know what I was signing up for, neither of us did. It was easy to agree to the adventure of it all, to give in to the excitement and fantasies of a time and place so far away. It was easy to say yes when we didn’t quite grasp what we were agreeing to. It was easy when we didn’t yet face the parts that wouldn’t be so effortless, so simple, so straightforward. It was easy, at first, to pick up and move our family to a small and isolated island in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. It was an exciting adventure to embark on, a thrilling and overwhelming journey, as we set off to build our next home in Okinawa, Japan.
Landing in Naha Airport in Okinawa was a surreal and overwhelming experience. The hour-long drive to Kadena Air Base revealed a culture far different than I was accustomed to in numerous ways. It was all so different, odd, unfamiliar. People drive on the left side of the road here, and streets are small, winding alleyways. The cars are tall and narrow, rectangles on wheels. The road signs are written in letters I do not recognize, and the mannerisms and gestures used on the island seem to be a language of their own. I felt small, insignificant, in a country where I did not belong. I wasn’t sure I would succeed in making this foreign place my home for the next three years.
We arrived only a week before Rosh Hashana, and we didn’t have time to waste. Putting aside my fears and apprehensions, I got to work preparing for the holidays. Pomegranates for Rosh Hashana were not in season and difficult to come by, yet we had several new and local fruits we tasted eagerly. Yom Kippur, however, was a lonely affair; the hours passed with soulful introspection and quiet doubts causing us to question our purpose here in Okinawa, Japan. By the time Sukkot was behind us we went through the small supply of chicken we had. The cheese we brought with us was running low as well, and we were abruptly and unexpectedly faced with our first challenge, finding kosher food. It took artful maneuvering and hours of daunting logistics to secure a delivery of chicken through the base commissary. With kosher food secured, we were able to ensure the continuity of our weekly Shabbat dinners.
Our Friday night Shabbat dinner involves a lot of guesswork and too many mathematical estimates. Never sure of how many people to expect, we cook each week with the hopes that there will be enough food for everyone to eat, yet not enough leftovers to cover supper for a week. We have been in Okinawa less than two months, yet our community is already a warm and rapidly growing center for Jewish services and support. While I have gotten used to driving on the left side of the road and the cultural etiquette of the Japanese people, it continues to feel like a surreal and vivid dream. There are moments I don’t believe it’s real, and I think we are still fantasizing in the hopeful whispers of what feels like a lifetime ago.
Maybe one day I’ll suddenly be hit with the realization that I live in Japan. Maybe one day I’ll be standing in the middle of the market, staring out into the endless ocean surrounding me, wondering how I got here. In the meantime, however, I’ll continue on as I have. I’ll continue caring for our family and our community, and I’ll continue riding along on this wild and adventurous journey, ready to see where it takes me next.
Originally published in the Chanukah 2020 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.