The death toll has topped 5,000 people, and we’re still a long way from realizing the final toll of the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25. But we already have confirmation of something that has long been obvious to anyone willing to see: Israel is the world’s hero when a disaster strikes.

Nepal earthquake for Atlanta Jewish Times

The aftermath of the Nepal earthquake (photo by Krish Dulal)

It’s roughly 3,000 miles from Tel Aviv to Kathmandu as the crow flies, if the crow could get permission to pass through the often-hostile airspace of Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and soar into the Himalayas. A human needs half a day to fly from Israel to Nepal in ideal conditions.

Despite some tourism (about 500 Israelis were in Nepal when the quake hit) and a thriving business in surrogate parenting (more than two dozen newborns or soon-to-be-borns destined to be adopted by Israeli parents became instant relief targets), Israel and Nepal aren’t close geographically, culturally, religiously or economically.

But Nepal’s government expressed a desperate need for medical teams and foreign expertise to get through the crisis, and Israel answered as fast or faster than any other nation.

A Magen David Adom medical team reached Nepal the day after the earthquake. Two Israel Defense Forces teams, offering search-and-rescue capabilities and a 200-patient-a-day field hospital, left for Nepal the day after that and might have left sooner if not for problems with the Kathmandu airport. IsraAID quickly followed.

Israel, not the United States or the European Union or neighboring India or China, not only appears to have been the first country to get a field hospital up and running in Nepal in response to the disaster, but also has sent the largest aid delegation. Not the largest per capita; the largest, period.

Israel’s quick response is in part the good side of a bad situation. When you’re in a perpetual state of war and face a ceaseless threat of terrorist attack, you always are ready for disaster.

It’s also true that as a matter of foreign policy, Israel recognizes the value of cultivating friendships wherever and whenever possible by doing good things for other countries.

But Israel doesn’t stop to make cold calculations when others are hurting; while other nations are talking, Israel acts. We’ve seen it happen around the world, year after year, disaster after disaster, from Japan to Haiti to even the United States.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has enough to worry about with the pending Iranian nuclear deal and his struggles to form a governing coalition, explained that Israel has a two-part mission in Nepal: to find and rescue Israelis who need help, because the world has shown that Jews have to watch out for ourselves, and to help people, any people, in distress.

“We are operating under two principles: All Israel is responsible one for the other, and Israel extending a hand in humanitarian assistance in Nepal as it has done in many other places around the world,” he said.

We couldn’t help noticing that Oxfam, which broke with actress Scarlett Johansson last year because of its dedication to boycotting Israel, has been one of the lead agencies calling for global aid for Nepal. It’s a good thing Oxfam’s politics haven’t forced Israel to retreat from the world stage.

Israel never comes closer to embodying Jewish principles than at times like these. Someday, maybe the world will realize that among the many benefits of the Jewish state, none is more important than its shining example of doing good because it’s right.