Religious books rescued from Christchurch Chabad House

Nearly 1,000 religious books have been rescued from the heavily damaged Chabad House in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Chabad House is located in the city’s downtown, near the epicenter of the major Feb. 22 temblor that claimed more than 165 lives, including three Israelis. Days after the quake, a rescue worker, at risk to his own life, removed the Chabad center’s two Torah scrolls.

Chabad of New Zealand director Rabbi Mendel Goldstein told JTA that engineers had initially told him it was too dangerous to enter the building because “any further aftershock is likely to bring down the rest of the roof.”

But on Monday two engineers and two rescue workers said they were willing to go in and allow Goldstein to direct them.

“It turned out to be a very miraculous trip,” he said. “The four of them helped take down pile after pile of books. They took down close to 1,000 religious books. We are overwhelmed beyond words. It is the largest Hebrew library in New Zealand.”

On Monday night the rescue team was invited to attend a celebration with rabbinical students who have arrived in the south island ahead of Passover.

Earlier in the day, Chris Bell, the rescue worker who saved the two Torah scrolls from the Chabad House just days after the quake, attended a memorial service at which Israeli Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also was present.

JDC helping Christchurch Jews to rebuild

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is helping the Jewish community of Christchurch to rebuild following the city’s devastating earthquake.

JDC funding will contribute to Christchurch Jewish community efforts to repair a damaged local synagogue and homes, replace household goods, provide financial stipends and temporary relocation costs, and support community service or children’s programs for the wider community, the organization said in a statement.

“As we extend our deepest sympathies to the families of Christchurch locals and Israelis lost in the earthquake, we’re cooperating with the Jewish community to ensure that people on the ground can start to rebuild their lives,” said Steven Schwager, the CEO of JDC. “As we have done in the past, JDC is delivering much-needed assistance to Jews and others in the wake of a disaster.”

In addition to lost property, and damaged homes and businesses, the Jewish community’s synagogue was damaged and the Chabad House was destroyed by the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck on Feb. 22. Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city, is home to 600 Jews. Jewish settlement in the region dates back to the early 1860s, according to the JDC.

“It means a lot to us to know that we are not forgotten, even though we are just a small community far away,” said Bettina Wallace, acting president of the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation.

The Zionist youth group Bnei Akiva, which has two New Zealand groups, launched an international appeal to provide immediate assistance for the 250 synagogue members.