While the city of Tokyo is buzzing with excitement ahead of the opening of the Olympic Games on July 21, Chabad’s emissary to Japan, Rabbi Mendi Sudakevich, found himself somewhat downhearted.
Sudakevich — who has been heading Chabad’s Tokyo branch for the past 20 years — tells of his and his family's disappointment after learning that the mass of Israelis they expected to host for the Olympics will not be able to make their way to Tokyo due to the resurgence of coronavirus in Israel, Japan’s own pandemic-induced restrictions, and the decision to hold the Olympic Games without crowds.
"Until a few weeks ago, the issue was still up in the air,” explains Sudakevich. “At the airport, it took about an hour and a half until you got a permit to enter the country. Now everything is going crazy."
According to Sudakevich, while many believed the Olympics would be canceled outright due to COVID-19, there was still hope the games would take place as planned.
“The media was against the games, and a lot of pressure was exerted in an attempt to cancel the Olympics,” Sudakevich said.
“But as the deadline approached, the people seemed to internalize that eventually, everything would go as planned. [Tokyo’s residents] eventually reconciled with the games taking place after they were told there would be no crowd. It makes them feel they are being looked after,” the rabbi added.
Before the decision to ban crowds from the Olympics was dropped, Sudakevich and his family went to great lengths to ensure the surge of Israelis they expected, and hoped, to host during the games would feel comfortable.
“It was mainly about food. Originally we started renting out places near the synagogue, and we organized a team that could serve a large audience,” said Sudakevich.
“During one Hanukkah evening that coincided with a football game that took place here in the city, we received about a thousand visitors,” said Sudakevich. “We expected the Olympics to be a larger event, not to mention it goes on for three weeks straight. But now everything just fell apart.”