March 5, 2021
By Dylan Adelman
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the east coast of Japan. The ensuing tsunami killed over 18,000 people, injured thousands more, and left 250,000 homeless. Impacting the lives of the entire nation, it was the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan’s history. Today, it is remembered as the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The world reeled from the heartbreaking news and nations pledged their support. One of the first foreign NGOs to react was IsraAID, an Israel-based humanitarian aid agency that responds to emergency crises and engages in international development around the world. AJC was also quick to respond, donating to support IsraAID’s efforts that very same day. “The destructive power of the huge earthquake that slammed Japan is incalculable, but this crisis challenges us who can act to respond,” said AJC CEO David Harris.
Four days after the catastrophe, the first Israeli search-and-rescue team arrived in the Tōhoku region and began to provide much-needed humanitarian relief. Israel was the first nation to establish a field hospital, and by the following week, IsraAID had initial operations up and running in Miyagi Prefecture, where the effects of the tsunami were especially destructive. Simultaneously, relief workers were supplying mattresses, clothing, and chemical toilets for Japanese victims living in public facilities. Before the end of March, and only 18 days after the devastating earthquake, a 53-member delegation comprised of officers from the Israeli Home Front Command and the Israeli Defense Force’s Medical Corps were in Miyagi, along with 62 tons of medical supplies to care for survivors.
There was also need for psycho-social and post-traumatic care, and the Japan IsraAID Support Program (JISP) was launched in response. JISP, which remains in action today, selected eight cities in the Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures and began programs there aimed at “developing local economic and psycho-social capacities.” Through JISP, IsraAID staff, along with Israeli volunteers, began to apply the Israeli experience of trauma care and psycho-social recovery.
Through projects like “Healing Japan” and “Voices of Tōhoku,” Israelis shared their expertise in fostering resilience and coping strategies, and taught survivors self-sustaining practices in the years following the tsunami. The “Tōhoku – Looking to the Future” program provided affected youth with leadership and skill training to help them excel professionally and contribute to their recovering communities. Through these efforts, JISP has built long-lasting resilience and growth in stricken areas.
The ripple effects of IsraAID’s multifaceted approach continue to make a difference in Japan and beyond. After the Kumamoto earthquake in 2016, JISP was able to quickly distribute food and clean water to over 2,000 people, and once again provided crucial psycho-social relief. The program was also active on the ground after disasters in Kenya and Nepal, and it is currently partnered with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in anticipation of future humanitarian relief needs. AJC applauds these ongoing partnerships and IsraAID’s persistent dedication to its mission.
AJC has generously supported humanitarian relief efforts for more than a century. Beyond the Great East Japan Earthquake, the organization has partnered with IsraAID and others in Nepal, Indonesia, South Sudan, Puerto Rico, and other areas affected by hardship. As Harris put it, “our tradition commands us to respond generously and compassionately to those in dire need.” Since the possibility of disaster always looms, AJC will continue to uphold and act on these central Jewish values.
Dylan Adelman is Assistant Director at the AJC Asia Pacific Institute.