The following report from Nepal, written April 29, comes from Sarah and Josh Weinstein, members of Young Israel of Toco Hills who are living in that earthquake-shattered nation in the Himalayas.
This past Shabbat morning, April 25, Parshiyot Tazria-Metzorah, at 11:56 a.m., Josh was at the Kathmandu Chabad House during Torah reading when the room began to transform. Screams and intense pounding were heard from every direction as the floor was now to his side, and our orientation and understanding of the world were violently challenged.
Those in the shul darted in panic and in a drunken fashion toward the exit and congregated outside in the open space. Children were crying, and all were fearful from the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen next. Sarah was with a colleague a mile from Chabad, and when the nearly minute-long shaking calmed, she observed a man with profuse head bleeding being carried to a hospital with much of his skull exposed. Immediately she ran to Chabad, where we embraced, breathing with relief to see the other unharmed.
Hundreds of Israelis began to funnel into Beit Chabad from throughout the city, some injured as they fled their hostels. The earthquakes and aftershocks continued with less but varied intensity for two days in Kathmandu, and the ground was rumbling with tremors for hours during the night. Wednesday a man was found buried under rubble since Saturday and drinking his own urine, and friends of ours remain missing.
For us, we have been blessed with community and many places to seek shelter. We have spent the last three nights at the U.S. Embassy, where there is ample water and food. Unlike millions of Nepalis who have little to no feeling of safety or comfort at this time, we have places to which we can return if we need to recharge or if the situation deteriorates and the aftershocks continue as predicted. We have experienced Jewish unity as both Chabad and the Israeli Embassy are supplying needed resources, safety and community to Jews traveling and living in Nepal. The Israel Defense Forces, Magen David Adom, Joint Distribution Committee and Federation (to name just a few) are providing support and relief as the tremendous effects of this disaster begin to unfold.
When assessing where to give, there are many worthy recipients. Much international aid has been mobilized, and dozens of organizations are providing support and needed resources. We are encouraging individuals to donate to organizations providing water education and treatment supplies to rural villages in hard-to-access locations. As is the reality in the aftermath of natural disasters, especially in countries with little to no sanitation education, water-borne diseases are likely to plague Nepal in the coming weeks and months.
We spoke with USAID search-and-rescue teams that bluntly acknowledged they are unequipped and unsure from where assistance will come for village and mountain communities. Similarly, a meeting with a representative from the U.N. World Food Program further emphasized that the world is sending ample responders and relief supplies, but the mountainous terrain and the blocked and destroyed roads from poor infrastructure and landslides have made dispatching supplies to many remote areas impossible. It is clear that without a dramatic increase in helicopter airlift capabilities, millions of people in remote area in need of medical attention, food, clean water and shelter are not going to see relief for days. The clock is ticking, and there is a dire need for remote communities to receive supplies, medical attention and immediate access to clean drinking water.
Sarah is coordinating the delivery of water treatment and medical supplies to these outlying communities through Nepal’s Centre for Environmental Action and Development as one part of a crowd-funding campaign. She established a partnership with the INGO Kopernik in this effort and has confirmed an army helicopter for a May 8 delivery to village communities. To learn more about this cause she is leading and to ensure they can make as many deliveries as possible, please contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org. One more urgent action is for each of us to contact our congressional leadership today to stress the need for an immediate increase in the number of helicopters deployed in Nepal. You also can reach out to the organizations you are supporting to ensure they are addressing this major hurdle to providing significant relief; there is no time to delay. The supplies are here and waiting, but the many dozens of helicopters needed to deliver them have not arrived.
The coming together of Klal Yisrael in the wake of humanitarian crises is not new, but the urgency is as strong as ever. As we mourn the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students from disease attributed to improper speech and lack of unity, we can come together and prevent the outbreak of disease in Nepal with love, holding dear our timeless Torah values. Foremost is our collective responsibility of pikuah nefesh. Simultaneously, we must heed our spiritual calling to tap into the most powerful forms of love that our tradition demands and that move us to meaningful action: V’ahavta l’reacha kmocha, v’ahavta et hager, and v’ahavta et Hashem.
If you have family or friends who are missing and feared to be in an unsafe location, please coordinate with your local officials to rally political support for a direct and immediate search and rescue. This information was provided to us by the USAID search-and-rescue team that is on site but is untrained and unequipped for mountain and rural rescues.
Thanks for your concern and support. Please send our love to the entire YITH/Atlanta community.