After days of exposure to the elements following Saturday’s 7.8 earthquake, 25 Israeli backpackers were airlifted to safety by Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz and volunteers who reached them by helicopters on Wednesday morning. Exhausted, they arrived at Chabad to a home-cooked meal, warm, clean clothing, and a very emotional welcome by friends who were praying for the safe return.
The Chabad House in Kathmandu, Nepal, has been a magnet for people seeking food and refuge since the quake left the country without power and basic necessities. Chabad representatives and volunteers participated in search and rescue missions by motorbikes and helicopters. They also searched among the dead for Jews, with the intention of ensuring they would have a Jewish burial.
As the search continues for missing Israelis, three of them, Alin Gaon, Shagei Rakhvoakh and Amit Tsangut, walked into the Chabad House on Thursday morning, after a five-day trek from the Langtang National Park. “We were desperately searching for them for days,” Rabbi Chezki says. “We will make sure to help them regain their strength here.”
Many of the stranded survivors, were located by Lifshitz through the satellite phones provided by Chabad before their trip.
The phones transmit the locations of the trekkers to the computer back in Kathmandu, making it possible for Lifshitz and volunteers to rescue them. The idea, to provide trekkers with satellite phones, implemented last week in response to incidents in which backpackers were lost and had no way of communicating, proved a lifesaving one as soon as the earthquake struck.
The project was dedicated by the family of Nadav Shoham, one of four Israelis who were killed during last year’s unusual weather pattern and blizzards storm.
By local tradition, the remains of those who were killed in the calamity are cremated. “We are racing against time to ensure that no Jewish remains will face that destiny,” says Chani Lifshitz, According to Jewish law, human remains need to be buried in the ground.
Feeding the Hungry
Over the past few days, many Israelis have made their way back on El Al flights that brought Israeli rescue teams to the country. The flights also brought provisions for the Chabad House, where Israeli and Nepali volunteers are making food for the many Nepali survivors whose homes were destroyed by the earthquake.
Chabad rabbinical students and stranded Israelis then brought the food to a local refugee camp and served bowls of rice and distributed bottled drinks.
The Lifshitz children were evacuated to Israel, where they will be safer while their parents remain in Nepal to manage the crisis. In a gesture of gratitude to the Lifshitzs, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin invited the children to his residence. While the children were there, he called their parents.
“What you are doing for the entire society and surely for the Israeli citizens that are there is outstanding,” the President told the Lifshitzs. “The way you opened your home to these people in their difficult times is tremendous.”
Speaking to her mother from the President’s residents, six-year-old Rivky wanted to know how long before she goes back home. Her mom, indefatigable Chani Lifshitz, reassured her that as soon as the crisis is over and the people who need their assistance are ok, they will be reunited.
Israel’s president promised Chani that her children are in good hands: “The same way you opened your home to all, we have opened our home to your children,” Rivlin said. “Through your kids we want to say thank you.”
To assist relief efforts visit the Nepal Jewish Relief Fund.