‘I’m Still Standing’ — and Will for Some Time



Plenty of foreigners are leaving Japan, but the past weeks have made no dent in my passport. There are many people who are jumping ship for theoretically less radioactive waters, but I'm not ready to leave.

The reasons for me staying here are powerful, yet simple: For the time being, this is my home. This is my country, at least for now. This is where I have work to do.

For the past year, I have been living in Saitama, a western suburb of Tokyo, where I have been teaching English at a public middle school.

At the time of the earthquake, I was teaching class. When the shaking started, we ducked under the desks. When the power went out and things fell off the walls, we heard an announcement to have everyone evacuate to the soccer field.

We ran outside as fast as we could. As I got out the door, the shaking stopped. All of the students sat quietly and waited while the teachers figured out what to do.

Soon after, we personally walked all the students back to their homes and then went to our own.

Upon reaching my apartment, I turned on the TV and saw the devastation of the tsunami.

I sat, jaw agape, waiting for what might come my way. I wanted to update Facebook with a joke so people would know I was OK. I had to think of something that would show them that although I did feel the ground trying to tear away my support, I was alive and ready to keep on working.

"Raphael is shaken, not stirred." While the time stamp on this update is now nearly two weeks old, the feeling still holds true. I see all kinds of articles flying up in blogs, news reports and even Twitter about how foreigners need to get out of Japan.

In spite of family and friends back in the United States pressuring me at times to return, I refuse. I must see this to the end.

This past December, one of my martial-arts students (a subject I also teach) from back home was visiting me for training and vacation. It was Chanukah. Meron, who is originally from Israel but lives in Bala Cynwyd, and I put on our yarmulkes and said the prayers over the candles each night.

Now, as I find myself in the occasional blackout, surrounded by candles, those feelings and words — the light of the holiday — come back. The appreciation is overwhelming.

Counting Your Blessings

This past year, I have been working on a book of short pieces of wisdom. One, in particular, comes to mind.

Say "Thank you" in threes: one for what you never had, one for what you don't have, and one for what you will not have. You are very lucky.

In my time here since the quake, I have learned just how blessed I really am. I was not hurt, killed or lost a loved one. I am not hungry, thirsty and don't need to search through rubble for my home. I will not be bored this week, as I still have a job to do.

I will count my blessings and not run from the beauty placed before my eyes. On March 24 — my birthday — I'll turn 26. I may be shaken, but I am by no means stirred.

Raphael Falkoff, a graduate of Lower Merion High School and Temple University, became a Bar Mitzvah and was confirmed at Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim in Wynnewood.


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