Representatives of Chabad-Lubavitch, the only Jewish service agency in Thailand, with centers in Bangkok, Chang Mai and Ko Samui, and Chabad of Bombay, India, have been working round the clock in the wake of the tsunami disaster that has reportedly left more than 50,000 dead.
According to Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm, Chabad representative in Bangkok who flew to Phuket and the affected islands upon the request of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, “it is a difficult task searching and identifying bodies, many that have been disfigured beyond recognition after laying in the water now for three days.” Lubavitch.com reached Rabbi Wilhelm on his cell phone at 3:00 a.m. local time, as he was in the midst of this gruesome work, after going without sleep since his arrival there early Monday morning.
There is panic, grief and confusion, amid terrible destruction and frantic calls from Israel and other countries, of relatives trying to locate their loved ones. According to Rabbi Yosef Kantor, director of Chabad-Lubavitch activities in Thailand, hundreds of Jews have turned to the Chabad Houses looking for some form or another of assistance, and Chabad has retained a dozen rabbinical students who were scheduled to leave the region on Sunday, to help assist in the immediate relief efforts that include food provisions, lodging accommodations, help in locating their friends and loved ones.
Though figures of Jews presently in the region are hard to come by, Rabbi Kantor says that an estimated 100,000 Jews visit Thailand in the course of the year. “We are extremely hopeful those people unaccounted for are alive,” he says, explaining that many tourists check in with Chabad and their families only sporadically, and many may be in areas that were unaffected. “They may not even realize how frantically families are waiting to hear from them,” he says, adding that phone access has also been a problem in some areas.
In addition to searching and identifying missing Jews, Chabad representatives have been working to evacuate people in need of hospitalization to cities where they can be assured of better care. Thus far, says Rabbi Wilhelm, after searching hundreds of victims, positive identifications were made on five Jews from various foreign countries. Rabbi Wilhelm has worked is working with various foreign ministries, among them Israeli, South African and Belgian, to arrange for the bodies to be returned to their families in accordance with Jewish tradition.
“At the moment, we are still in the process of trying to locate the missing and administer immediate relief and counseling,” said Rabbi Kantor, speaking to lubavitch.com at 2:00 a.m. local time. “We need all the financial assistance we can get from abroad,” he says.
Contributions for relief efforts in Thailand can be made directly to Chabad of Thailand by clicking on their website Tsunami Relief Effort.