Tag Archives: Pearl Harbor

Jew of the Week: Beate Sirota Gordon

The Woman Who Wrote Japan’s Constitution

Beate Sirota Gordon helped draft the Japanese constitution, and transformed Japanese society, when she was just 22 years old.

Beate Sirota (1923-2012) was born in Vienna, the daughter of Russian-Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. When she was five years old, her father, a popular musician, accepted a position to teach music at what is now the Tokyo University of the Arts. The family moved to Japan, where Sirota studied in German and American schools. At 16, she went to college in California and got a degree in languages, speaking English, German, French, Russian, and Japanese fluently. When World War II broke out, Sirota was one of just a handful of (non-Japanese) people in America who could speak Japanese, and went to work for the Office of War Information. Her main job was to monitor Japanese radio signals and translate their broadcasts. During this time, she had no contact with her parents who were still living in Japan. As soon as the war ended she volunteered to go to Japan as a US Army translator, hoping to find her parents (she did). She would become the first civilian woman admitted to the country. In 1946, the Americans started working on a new constitution for Japan and Sirota (the only woman on the committee) was tasked with writing the section on civil rights. She made it a priority to ensure that Japanese society would finally allow equality for all, especially better conditions for women who still had no rights in the country. Sirota personally drafted Article 14 (“All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin…”) and Article 24 (“Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife…”) Despite reservations from both the Japanese and American negotiators (who felt she was giving Japanese women more rights than even American woman had), Sirota eventually convinced her counterparts to include the clauses. She is therefore credited with being the central force for bringing social equality and women’s rights to Japan.

During her time working on the constitution, Sirota met her future husband, Lt. Joseph Gordon. They returned to the US and settled in New York. After briefly working for TIME magazine, Sirota pursed her passion for art, music, and dance. Meanwhile, she worked at the Japan Society helping Japanese students and immigrants (one of whom was Yoko Ono). Sirota played a large role in introducing Japanese (and Asian) music and art to the West. By 1970, she was Director of Performing Arts for the Asia Society, and began to travel all over Asia to remote communities in search of traditional art forms. She would then invite these artists on tours to the West. All in all, Sirota organized 39 tours in 16 countries. In the US alone, her shows were seen by 1.5 million people in 400 cities. She also made five films and multiple television programs about Asian art, and recorded 8 albums of music. For all of her tremendous work, Sirota received dozens of awards, including the prestigious Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese government. In Japan, two films have been made about her life. In 1995, Sirota published a memoir in Japanese, followed by an English version in 1998, titled The Only Woman in the Room. Today, she is one of Japanese greatest feminist icons.

In Memory of Lori Kaye, 60, “Who Thought of Others Before Herself”

A Mystical Map of Your Soul

Words of the Week

Until now you have focused on what you need from God; it’s about time you asked, “What is needed of me?”
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813)

Jew of the Week: Moe Berg

Baseball Player, Lawyer… and Secret Agent 

Moe Berg

Moe Berg

Morris Berg (1902-1972) was born in New York to Russian-Jewish immigrants. He began playing baseball at age 7, and by 16 was on Newark’s baseball “dream team”. He studied first at New York University, then Princeton, and graduated with a degree in languages, learning to speak seven of them. By his senior year, he was captain of Princeton’s baseball team. A day after his last game with Princeton, Berg signed a contract with the Brooklyn Robins. In the off-season, he headed to Paris and continued his studies at the world-famous Sorbonne (University of Paris). There, he began a personal routine of reading as many as 10 newspapers every single day. Berg was never very good at baseball, and was often traded and loaned between many different teams. Always a scholar first, in 1926 he told the Chicago White Sox that he is skipping spring training because he was enrolled in law school at Columbia University. He earned his law degree in 1930, and then split his time between baseball in the summer and working at a prestigious Wall Street law firm in the winter.

In 1932, Berg toured Asia, visiting Japan, China, Siam, India, and Egypt. A couple of years later, he returned to Japan with a video camera, later traveling to the Philippines, Korea, and Russia, before returning to play with the Red Sox for 5 seasons, then coaching the team for 2 more. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Berg joined the war effort and eventually became a spy. He shared his video footage of Japan, which was instrumental in planning American raids during the war. After serving in South America and the Caribbean, Berg was parachuted into Yugoslavia to assist resistance groups fighting the Nazis. His next mission was to travel across Europe and convince scientists working for the Nazis (particularly on their nuclear bomb project), to come work for the U.S. instead. In 1951, he requested that the CIA station him in Israel. Instead, they sent him to Europe to spy on Soviet nuclear work. In 1954, the CIA let him go and for the rest of his life Berg lived with his siblings, having never married. His wishes were to be cremated, and his ashes were scattered in Jerusalem. Berg was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and Baseball’s Shrine of the Eternals. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, and his baseball card is on display at CIA headquarters. Berg was described as “the most scholarly professional athlete”, and the “strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Words of the Week

If you begin a good deed, finish it, for a mitzvah is credited to the one who concludes the task.
– Talmud, Sotah 13b