Head of Israeli hospital was crucial in aiding quake-ravaged Nepal


On April 25, just hours after the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, Dr. Jonathan Halevy, longtime director general of Jerusalem’s prestigious Shaare Zedek Medical Center, received an urgent call from his deputy director general, Dr. Ofer Merin, a senior cardiothoracic surgeon. Merin, 54, was calling to request time off to organize, transport and lead an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) field hospital in Nepal, as he had done in Haiti after the 2010 quake, in Japan after the quake and tsunami of 2011, and in the Philippines after a devastating 2014 typhoon and flood. Halevy immediately granted Merin leave.  

Eight hours later, Merin phoned Halevy again.

Dr. Ofer Merin (left), who led the Israeli disaster-relief mission to Nepal and brought with him Dr. Jonathan Halevy, who heads the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

“At midnight, Ofer called me and said, ‘I’m missing a senior internist,’ ” Halevy told the Journal during a recent visit to L.A. “ ‘Though you’re 67,’ Ofer said to me, ‘and you’re my boss in civil life, are you ready to come?’ ” Halevy — a respected doctor and administrator with 15 grandchildren “and a 16th on the way” — knew that he’d face grueling conditions in Nepal, including the constant risk of aftershocks and tropical diseases, working long hours with few resources and performing difficult operations alongside young army recruits, all while living out of a tent. 

Halevy woke his wife after the call. “I told her, ‘They want me to go to Nepal.’ She said, ‘You shouldn’t miss it.’ ” So seven hours later, early in the morning, Halevy was in Ramle, near Ben-Gurion Airport. He and the other 143 members of the mission were given immunizations and paperwork to fill out. And, because the field hospital is under the aegis of the IDF, they were handed military uniforms.

“I hadn’t worn a uniform in 25 years,” Halevy said, but he donned one with pride and humility, reversing roles with his deputy. “I’m a major. Ofer is a lieutenant colonel, so I was under his command.” Forty-eight hours after the quake, the medical team was in the air. It was a very informal flight,” Halevy said. “The door to the cockpit was open. It took 10 hours instead of seven, because we could not fly over Iran.”

Despite the expertise of the Israeli pilots flying the jumbo jet — carrying all of the team plus 95 tons of equipment — they were concerned. They’d never before landed in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, and the runway there is notoriously short and surrounded by mountains. Moreover, they didn’t know yet whether the quake had damaged the runway. For an hour, the plane circled above New Delhi, an hour from Nepal, while an advance group checked out the conditions on the ground, then gave the go-ahead to land.

Once in Katmandu, every Israeli had to pitch in to set up the hospital that would save many lives over the next two weeks. 

“We had no Nepalese soldiers or anybody else to help us, so we all unloaded, and there was no exception, even a major, age 67,” said Halevy, pointing to himself. “There was a lot of camaraderie.”

There was also no time to pause before the disaster-relief work began. “In the back of the [earthquake-damaged] Nepalese hospital,” Halevy said, “150 people were waiting for corrective surgery. They had fractures of the limbs, so we took them immediately.”

Because so many of those injured were in mountain villages, the Israelis sent medical outreach groups to treat people where they lived, and, when necessary, bring complicated cases back to Katmandu.

Some found their own way from the villages to the Israeli field hospital. 

This temporary hospital brought by the Israel Defense Forces to Nepal allowed Israelis to treat 1,600 people in the quake-damaged country.

“Look at this couple,” Halevy said, pointing to a photo of a middle-aged couple dressed in traditional Himalayan garb. “She was with a fracture of the ribs and walked for 10 days to come to us, [though] her fractured ribs had injured her lungs. You can see the drain we put in. Within 24 hours, her lungs inflated again and she went back to her village.”

Another photo showed a baby. “This 9-month-old had crush injury,” Halevy said, “with kidney damage. We did not have a dialysis machine there, so we improvised, lavaging his belly,” a pre-dialysis method of irrigating and cleaning the kidney. “There was plenty of room for improvisation there.”

Among the 17 countries that sent teams to help in the immediate aftermath of the quake, the Israelis by far outnumbered all others; the next largest, Taiwan, had a team of 37. The U.S. sent a group of 15, and most countries sent teams numbering fewer than 10. Saying he’d always been a proud Zionist, Halevy stressed that he came back feeling even more so. He was filled with stories of both heroism and compassion.

A group of medical clowns — doctors and nurses with balloons, baggy clothes and bulbous red noses — entertained the Nepalese children while treating them. The men and women from the IDF and from hospitals throughout Israel (10 members of the medical team were from Shaare Zedek) delivered eight babies, treated 1,600 people and performed 130 surgeries on patients with life-threatening conditions. Helping them were Nepalese who’d previously lived and worked in Israel, some of them volunteering as Nepalese/Hebrew interpreters. One Nepalese woman, who’d once been a caregiver in Israel, connected with an Israeli nurse whose grandmother she’d cared for at an Israeli retirement home. After an emotional reunion, the two women developed a close friendship. 

As an internist and leading hospital administrator with more than 40 years of practice, Halevy knew more or less what to expect. 

“During an earthquake, people are buried under rubble, so you see crush injuries with special characteristics,” Halevy said. Muscles, compressed by fallen debris, stop functioning normally, which can cause kidney injuries. “It’s called crush syndrome. Another thing is that people develop severe infections and have nowhere to go, because the hospitals are damaged by the quake. That was the situation in Nepal. So our field hospital was both surgical and medical.” 

There were situations, however, that Halevy did not anticipate.

“One patient came to our emergency room complaining of a half-paralyzed body,” Halevy said. “We did not have an MRI with us. So we referred him to the [Nepalese] hospital, and he came back to us, and he had worms in his brain. I had never seen such a case. These are tropical diseases.” Although the problem was not earthquake-related, the Israelis took him on and successfully treated him with medications. “We had professor Eli Schwartz, who is the Israeli expert on tropical medicine — 10 years earlier, he’d spent two years in Kathmandu on fellowship. He was in my department and gave us a lecture on this disease.” 

After two weeks in Nepal, the Israeli mission flew home. But more will be remembered than just what they accomplished there: They left behind all the medical equipment they’d brought from Israel as a gift to the Nepalese.

Nepal Consulate in Los Angeles calls for ongoing post-quake support


The Nepalese Consulate in Los Angeles is facilitating donations and charitable gifts through its networks for humanitarian support for victims of the powerful earthquake that hit Nepal twice, killing more than 8,000 people, and destroying thousands of houses, heritage temples and buildings.

Amanda Daflos, deputy chief of General Consulate of Nepal in Los Angeles told the Jewish Journal, “We've been doing a number of things, including facilitating donations and the collection of supplies from Los Angeles communities and organizations who have reached out.”

“We have been invited to fundraising events to both speak and be a part of their events to provide information about Nepal and the effects of this disaster. We have also continued to direct people to organizations accepting donations,” Daflos said.

For those who live in Los Angeles and want to contribute donations to victims of the earthquake in Nepal, the consulate recommended Seeds Nepal, International Medical Corps, Mountain Fund, dZI Foundation for donations.

Daflos said that there is need in a variety of ways, including financial donations, supplies donations, volunteering to go to Nepal on emergency missions, and organizing fundraisers. There is also much room for creativity and all skills levels; there will be much demand for people who can help rebuild over the years to come with both skills and time, she added.

“There is currently a great need for medical supplies, tents and temporary shelters because thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed and the country is about to enter the monsoon season,” said Daflos.

Many relief organizations, including Seeds Nepal, International Medical Corps, and international governments, including the United States have responded to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and killed more than 8,000 in Nepal. The second quake of 7.3 hit the country on May12.

Daflos, however, emphasized that long-term support is still needed while emergency assistance is being carried out by aid organizations.

“Long-term needs will be significant and we are encouraging people to stay tuned in to the long term needs and volunteer their time or make financial donations over the long term. This is a disaster that will impact the country for decades to come,” Daflos said. 

She, however, said that many affected communities in Nepal have found aid delivery has been delayed due to logistical problems and slow reaction by the Nepalese government.

“The airport [in Nepal] itself is one of the hardest airports in the world for landing,” Daflos said.

Charity organizations got limited access to the disaster-affected regions as roads and paths were destroyed. Nepalese government's slow response to the victims of the earthquake and poor aviation capacities also contributed to delayed aid deliveries, Daflos said.

Geographical inconveniences also make logistics access difficult, as many parts of the country are mountainous regions. Local villagers mostly walk and hike to receive aid. But many paths were destroyed by landfall and haven't built, becoming difficult for everyone to reach out aid supplies.  

Charity groups and international governments should also focus on long term plans in order to rebuild live of affected people and rebuilding the country to normalcy.

Daflos, however, said that it will be a long journey back to where Nepal was before the quake, because of lost of legendary heritage, ancient temples and buildings. “Nepalis continue to focus on rebuilding, and our hope is they will gain the right levels of support from the international community to achieve this over the long term,” Daflos said. Located in the Himalayas and bordering with India and China, agriculture, hydropower and tourism trade are major contributors to the country's economy.

IDF delegation to Nepal lands in Israel as new temblor strikes


The Israel Defense Forces delegation to Nepal returned home as a second powerful earthquake shook the beleaguered Asian country.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 struck Nepal on Tuesday morning less than three weeks after a 7.8 magnitude quake struck the same area, killing more than 8,000 people and injuring upwards of 16,000. At least 42 people have been reported killed and several buildings destroyed in Tuesday’s earthquake in the hours after it struck.

The area had faced numerous aftershocks and smaller earthquakes since the April 25 temblor centered near Kathmandum, the capital. Many families had moved back to their homes, however.

Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz, co-director of the Chabad of Nepal with his wife, Chani, said soon after Tuesday’s quake that 133 Israelis have again taken shelter at the Chabad center, according to the Chabad.org website.

“Although everyone we know appears to be safe, we are sad to report that there are many more casualties in Nepal again today,” Lifshitze said. “There is so much more work that now needs to be done.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the IDF delegation on Tuesday morning when it arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport.

“Members of the delegation, we are proud of you!” Netanyahu exclaimed. “You rescued people from the ruins, treated 1,600 injured and sick people, and brought new life into the world, at least eight births. You showed the true face of the State of Israel – a state that loves life and saves life.”

“You brought much honor and much pride to the State of Israel. I am certain and I know that you are already prepared for the next mission wherever you are needed.”

Israel to evacuate more babies born to surrogates in Nepal following new quake


Israel will evacuate four Israeli babies born to surrogate mothers in Nepal following the second major earthquake to hit the Asian nation in three weeks.

A Magen David Adom mission was scheduled to leave for Nepal on Tuesday night, Ynet reported, after one of the fathers called for assistance from Israel earlier in the day following the 7.3 magnitude quake. The father’s twins were born Saturday.

The four babies, all born prematurely, were in neonatal intensive care units at the Grande International Hospital in Kathmandu at the time of the earthquake. One of the fathers, Yoav Elani, said that when the earthquake struck, all of the fathers grabbed their babies, disconnected them from tubes and machines, and ran outside.

The Israeli government is currently working with Nepalese officials on the approval needed to bring the babies to Israel.

The surrogate mothers and hospital staff also were safe, the Tammuz surrogacy agency, which facilitates the pregnancies, told the Hebrew language NRG news website. The babies and their parents will spend the night in a car in the parking lot of the hospital trying to keep the babies warm, according to NRG.

Following the 7.8 magnitude quake on April 25, Israel evacuated 25 Israeli babies born to surrogate mothers in Nepal, as well as some late-term surrogate mothers.

At least 42 people have been reported killed and several buildings destroyed in Tuesday’s earthquake in the hours after it struck. The earlier earthquake has killed more than 8,000 people and injured upwards of 16,000.

The area had faced numerous aftershocks and smaller earthquakes since the April 25 temblor centered near Kathmandu, the capital. Many families had moved back to their homes, however.

Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz, co-director of the Chabad of Nepal with his wife, Chani, said soon after Tuesday’s quake that 133 Israelis have again taken shelter at the Chabad center, according to the Chabad.org website.

“Although everyone we know appears to be safe, we are sad to report that there are many more casualties in Nepal again today,” Lifshitz said. “There is so much more work that now needs to be done.”

On Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces delegation to Nepal returned home. In his welcome to the delegation at Ben Gurion International Airport, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that Israel could send a second delegation in the wake of the new earthquake.

Body of missing Israeli hiker found in Nepal


The last unaccounted-for Israeli following the earthquake in Nepal was found dead in the remote Langtang area.

The body of Or Asraf, 22, was located Sunday morning, the Israeli ZAKA rescue and recovery organization announced. It likely will not be recovered until Monday, when a “complex extraction” will be attempted on a rocky mountainside, according to ZAKA.

Asraf had been traveling with members of his former Israeli army unit, but left for a hike on his own shortly before the quake hit on April 25. The death toll as of Sunday morning was over 7,000. Hundreds of Israelis were in the area at the time of the quake.

Prior to finding Asraf’s body, rescue workers found documents belonging to him. Asraf had been traveling for several months since his release from army service with the elite Egoz unit. He was injured during last summer’s Israeli military operation in Gaza.

His father, Patrick, and several army comrades had arrived in Kathmandu last week to join in the search. Patrick Asraf had vowed not to leave Nepal without finding his son.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has not been able to confirm the discovery of the body. It reportedly was identified by his army commander, who was taking part in the search.

Meanwhile, three people were pulled alive from the quake’s rubble, including a 101-year-old man. Aftershocks from the 7.8 magnitude temblor continue to roil the area.

After Nepal quake, Israelis stick together and try to calm their parents


UPDATEAll but one of the missing Israelis have been accounted for, as of Wednesday morning.

TEL AVIV (JTA) — When the ground began to shake, Inbar Irron was among a dozen Israelis in Nepal who ran outside the building where they had been sitting — and straight into a cloud of dust.

When their vision cleared, they saw a devastating scene: Much of the village of Manegau, where they had come to volunteer for four months, had crumbled to the ground. Miraculously, none of the villagers was hurt. But many of their homes had been reduced to rubble.

Irron’s group — sent by the Israeli NGO Tevel B’Tzedek, which organizes volunteer trips to Nepal — was there to set up a youth group, provide leadership workshops to women in the village, bring Israeli agritech to its farms and computers to its schools.

Now that mission is on long-term hold. The volunteers and villagers have pitched plastic tents to weather the rainy nights, and hope their food stockpile will last until the road to Kathmandu reopens. The immediate task, Irron says, is to rebuild at least a few buildings and reassure the villagers.

“Right now we’re trying to maintain calm and high motivation,” Irron told JTA via a satellite phone.

Approximately 2,000 Israelis were in Nepal when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck on Saturday, killing more than 4,600 people and destroying buildings and roads across the country. By Tuesday, only a handful of Israelis remained unaccounted for. But over the weekend, across Nepal, hundreds scrambled for shelter, helped each other, weathered strong aftershocks and waited for evacuation as they scrambled to contact worried parents.

On Tuesday, a flight from Nepal carrying some 220 Israelis landed in Tel Aviv. As Nepal has become a popular destination for Israelis seeking gestational carriers, all of the 26 Israeli babies born there to surrogate mothers were brought back to Israel along with their parents. Israeli search-and-rescue teams retrieved Israelis from their refuge places and brought them to Kathmandu, where hundreds had taken shelter at the Israeli Embassy and Chabad house.

“Many of the people who were here on vacation are more traumatized and prefer to leave as fast as possible,” Nevo Shinaar, another Tevel B’Tzedek worker whose group took refuge in the embassy, wrote to JTA on the messaging application WhatsApp. “We’re talking, we’re embracing, we’re helping with all the bureaucracy.”

Nepal is a popular destination for young Israelis, many of whom vacation there for weeks or months following mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces.

Several Israeli missions landed in Nepal early in the week to provide medical care, assist search efforts and distribute humanitarian aid. An IDF delegation arrived Monday night to set up a field hospital, while staff from Magen David Adom, a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, fanned out across Kathmandu’s hospitals to care for Israelis and treat the quake’s 11,000 wounded. Dr. Rafi Strugo, who is heading the MDA team, called Kathmandu “an atmosphere of chaos.”

“In these missions, you need to understand, and it’s hard to understand, that you won’t be able to do everything and help everyone,” Strugo, who also treated wounded in Nepal after the 2013 avalanche in Annapurna, told JTA via satellite phone on Monday night. “The dimensions of the tragedy, the dimensions of the destruction, are so big that you can’t contain it all.”

As rescue efforts intensified Monday and Tuesday, some Israelis remained stranded far from Kathmandu. As of Tuesday evening, nine Israelis were still unaccounted for.

Raviv Torati, who was traveling in south Asia after his discharge from the IDF, was in a car on the way to a music festival when the quake hit, according to his mother, Orna. The car survived the tremors and reached the festival, which was canceled, but Raviv was stuck there with a group of fellow travelers. Four days later they were sleeping in tents and living on food prepared for the festival while they waited for rescue.

“I want him to come home already,” Orna told JTA on Monday. “I worry so much that if he’ll go to India, there could be more earthquakes or weak roads and bridges. I’m worried he’ll be on the road and — God forbid, I don’t want to say. We’re helpless here.”

A group of 10 Israelis hiking in Langtang National Park, 40 miles from Kathmandu, found each other after the quake and worked together to survive. According to Elfie Sharabi, one of the hiker’s mothers, the group built a small shelter out of bamboo to use during the aftershocks and cleared out a large open space in case a helicopter needed to land to rescue them.

Her daughter, Shani, has a satellite phone, so parents across Israel and the world have been calling Sharabi in hopes of locating their children who went missing in Langtang. Together, Elfie and Shani Sharabi helped some 40 adult children in Langtang contact their parents.

But as her phone number spread across social media, Elfie Sharabi was deluged with messages from people with relatives across Nepal. On Monday afternoon, when she spoke to JTA, Sharabi was attempting to answer 175 WhatsApp messages and 250 emails.

“What’s good about it is because I have to communicate with so many other people, I don’t have time,” Sharabi told JTA. “I am usually a major worrier. I don’t have time to allow myself to start thinking. I spend so much time trying to calm other people and be positive, I guess it’s rubbing off on me, too.”

While many Israeli tourists who had traveled to Nepal in search of a relaxing vacation remained tense days after the earthquake, Shinaar said Nepalis have remained calm and, even amid the death and destruction, are focusing on supporting each other. It’s an outlook that Shinaar and his fellow volunteers, who are in Nepal for a year, hope to adopt as they begin the work of rebuilding the country.

“It’s very shocking, but because we work here we approach it differently from most of the Israeli tourists,” Shinaar wrote to JTA. “These are our communities and our people who are suffering here. There’s a lot more work to do.”

300 Israelis return home from earthquake-ravaged Nepal


Over 300 Israelis have returned home from earthquake-ravaged Nepal, including 25 infants born to surrogate mothers.

Meanwhile, an airplane carrying an Israeli field hospital and 260 personnel landed in Kathmandu on Tuesday following delays due to weather and the condition of the runway in the capital. The hospital, which will have the ability to treat 20 people a day, was expected to be operational by the next morning.

Israeli search-and-rescue teams began trying to reach about 80 Israeli hikers trapped in remote areas throughout the country, including in Langtang National Park, using rented and borrowed helicopters.

Two Israelis reportedly refused to be evacuated from Nepal, saying they wished to stay and help the locals.

Some 11 Israelis remain unaccounted for following Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake centered near Kathmandu.

The death toll from the quake and resulting avalanche has risen to above 5,00 and could climb as high as 10,000 Nepalese officials said.

On Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman spoke with his Nepalese counterpart and conveyed the condolences of the Israeli people on the great loss of life in Saturday’s earthquake, according to the Foreign Ministry. He also thanked Nepal Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey for Nepalese assistance in rescuing stranded Israelis.

Pandey thanked Liberman on behalf of his people for the aid being sent from Israel, the statement said.

Nepal quake victims still stranded, PM says toll could be 10,000


People stranded in remote villages and towns across Nepal were still waiting for aid and relief to arrive on Tuesday, four days after a devastating earthquake destroyed buildings and roads and killed more than 4,600 people.

The government has yet to assess the full scale of the damage wrought by Saturday's 7.9 magnitude quake, unable to reach many mountainous areas despite aid supplies and personnel pouring in from around the world.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala told Reuters the death toll could reach 10,000, as information of damage from far-flung villages and towns has yet to come in.

That would surpass the 8,500 who died in a 1934 earthquake, the last disaster on this scale to hit the Himalayan nation.

“The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing,” Koirala said. “It is a challenge and a very difficult hour for Nepal.”

In Jharibar, a village in the hilly Gorkha district of Nepal close to the quake's epicenter, Sunthalia dug for hours in the rubble of her collapsed home on Saturday to recover the bodies of two of her children, a 10-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son.

Another son aged four miraculously survived.

HUNDREDS KILLED IN LANDSLIDES

In Barpak, further north, rescue helicopters were unable to find a place to land. On Tuesday, soldiers had started to make their way overland, first by bus, then by foot.

Army helicopters also circled over Laprak, another village in the district best known as the home of Gurkha soldiers.

A local health official estimated that 1,600 of the 1,700 houses there had been razed. Helicopters dropped food packets in the hope that survivors could gather them up.

In Sindhupalchowk, about 3.5 hours by road northeast of Kathmandu, the earthquake was followed by landslides, killing 1,182 people and seriously injuring 376. A local official said he feared many more were trapped and more aid was needed.

“There are hundreds of houses where our people have not been able to reach yet,” said Krishna Pokharel, the district administrator. “There is a shortage of fuel, the weather is bad and there is not enough help coming in from Kathmandu.”

International aid has begun arriving in Nepal, but disbursement has been slow, partly because aftershocks have sporadically closed the airport.

According to the home (interior) ministry, the confirmed death toll stands at 4,682, with more than 9,240 injured.

The United Nations said 8 million people were affected by the quake and that 1.4 million people were in need of food.

Nepal's most deadly quake in 81 years also triggered a huge avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 18 climbers and guides, including four foreigners, the worst single disaster on the world's highest peak.

All the climbers who had been stranded at camps high up on Everest had been flown by helicopters to safety, mountaineers reported on Tuesday.

Up to 250 people were missing after an avalanche hit a village on Tuesday in Rasuwa district, a popular trekking area to the north of Kathmandu, district governor Uddhav Bhattarai said.

FRUIT VENDORS RETURN TO STREETS

A series of aftershocks, severe damage from the quake, creaking infrastructure and a lack of funds have complicated rescue efforts in the poor country of 28 million people sandwiched between India and China.

In Kathmandu, youths and relatives of victims were digging into the ruins of destroyed buildings and landmarks.

“Waiting for help is more torturous than doing this ourselves,” said Pradip Subba, searching for the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law in the debris of Kathmandu's historic Dharahara tower.

The 19th century tower collapsed on Saturday as weekend sightseers clambered up its spiral stairs. Scores of people were killed when it crumpled.

Elsewhere in the capital's ancient Durbar Square, groups of young men cleared rubble from around an ancient temple, using pickaxes, shovels and their hands. Several policemen stood by, watching.

Heavy rain late on Tuesday slowed the rescue work.

In the capital, as elsewhere, thousands have been sleeping on pavements, roads and in parks, many under makeshift tents.

Hospitals are full to overflowing, while water, food and power are scarce.

There were some signs of normality returning on Tuesday, with fruit vendors setting up stalls on major roads and public buses back in operation.

Officials acknowledged that they were overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster.

“The big challenge is relief,” said Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudel, Nepal's top bureaucrat. “We are really desperate for more foreign expertise to pull through this crisis.”

India and China, which have used aid and investment to court Kathmandu for years, were among the first contributors to the international effort to support Nepal's stretched resources.

Jewish Google exec dies on Mount Everest in avalanche triggered by Nepal quake


A Jewish Google executive, Dan Fredinburg, was killed in an avalanche triggered on Mount Everest by the earthquake in Nepal.

Fredinburg, the head of privacy for Google X, the company’s ideas lab, suffered a major head injury in the avalanche and died, his younger sister Megan reported in a post on his Instagram account. He was 33.

The post read: “This is Dans little sister Megan. I regret to inform all who loved him that during the avalanche on Everest early this morning our Dan suffered from a major head injury and didn’t make it. We appreciate all of the love that has been sent our way thus far and know his soul and his spirit will live on in so many of us. All our love and thanks to those who shared this life with our favorite hilarious strong willed man. He was and is everything to us. Thank you.”

Fredinburg, who was Jewish, had been scaling Everest for the past three weeks with an expedition team arranged by a U.K.-based tour company. Two other Google employees on the expedition and their guides survived the avalanche.

Fredinburg had worked at Google since 2007. He was co-founder of Google Adventure, which was designed to bring Google Street View to exotic locations, including Mount Everest.

Israel to allow pregnant surrogates in Nepal to fly to Israel


This story originally appeared on The Media Line

Israel’s Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, has agreed to allow pregnant women in Nepal, who have contracted with Israelis as surrogates, to fly to Israel until they give birth. The decision came after one of the primary hospitals in Nepal was damaged in Saturday’s earthquake.

According to the proposal, women in their second and third trimesters who are already bound by contract as surrogates to Israelis, will be able to fly to Israel if they choose to. Israel’s Justice Ministry had expressed reservations, worried that bringing the women to Israel could be seen as human trafficking.

At the time of the earthquake there were about 70 Israelis in Nepal, waiting to take about 25 babies home. For gay or infertile couples in Israel looking to hire a surrogate, Nepal has become the country of choice. Since the earthquake, Israeli officials have brought ten newborns to the country, three of them premature infants who needed special care.

“Minister of Interior Gilad Erdan decided that the most important thing was to get those babies here,” Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Interior told The Media Line. “Everything there is in chaos, so we will get them here and then handle the bureaucracy.”

She said that in normal times, one of the parents of the newborn must take a DNA test, which is analyzed in Israel. Once the results are confirmed, the baby is given Israeli citizenship. That procedure usually takes about three weeks. Most Israeli prospective parents, often with other family members in tow, spend at least three weeks in Nepal, arriving before the baby is born, and staying until the baby receives Israeli citizenship.

“India closed the gates for gays two years ago, then Thailand,” Doron Mamet-Meged, the founder of Tammuz International Surrogacy. “In Nepal a cabinet decision allows surrogacy if neither the parents is Nepali so that is where we are doing most of our work now.”

Mamet-Meged started the agency after he and his spouse used a surrogate for their child. Since then, he said, his agency has helped hundreds of couples have children via surrogacy. In Nepal, he said, the surrogates, most of whom come from nearby India, earn about $7000, a sum several times the annual income there. During the pregnancy they live in rented housing in Kathmandu with their families, and receive excellent prenatal care. All of the surrogates he uses have already had healthy pregnancies.

“There are many women who want to do it,” he said. “We take very good care of those women and the women raise their standard of living. Many of them ask to be a surrogate more than once.”

The total cost in Nepal, he says, is about $14,000, similar to the cost in Israel, and half the cost in the US. In Israel, surrogacy is only open to heterosexual couples who have proven infertility.

Surrogacy is becoming a more common way for Israelis to become parents, says Mina Ulzary, co-founder of the Parenthood Center in Israel.

“Women who want to adopt often have to wait five or six years and then you get a baby who is between one and two years old,” Ulzary told The Media Line. “With surrogacy, you start taking care of the baby from the second it is born.”

Four Israelis saved from Mount Everest


An Israeli rescue team saved four Israelis from Mount Everest, where they had been trapped by the earthquake that has devastated Nepal.
A rescue team sent to Nepal by Harel, an Israeli insurance company, brought the Israeli hikers, who are in good health, to safety on Monday, the Times of Israel reported.
Approximately 100 Israelis are still missing, and more than 3,800 people are believed to have died in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Saturday morning.
An Israeli army jet bound for Kathmandu carrying 250 medical and rescue personnel and supplies, including a field hospital, departed from Israel on Monday afternoon. Earlier in the day, an army plane brought 90 rescue workers and supplies. A third plane is scheduled to take off on Monday night.

Nepal: How you can help


Jews in Israel and abroad are responding to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 —resulting in the death of more than 4,000 Nepalese people — through action and financial campaigns.

“The people of Nepal are in desperate need right now,” American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) spokesperson Michael Geller said in a phone interview from New York.

The organization (jdc.org) has set up a Nepal Earthquake Relief fund that will provide urgent assistance, with a focus on medical relief and providing aid supplies. JDC is also helping the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with the setting up of an Israeli field hospital in the region, Geller said.

“A lot is happening,” he said. “JDC is partnering with the IDF field hospital, as we have done since the [2010] quake in Haiti. And we are providing them with equipment, such as neonatal incubators, and also partnering with Tevel b’Tzedek, which is an [Israeli] organization operating on the ground, and also with UNICEF.”

Geller was unable to provide an up-to-date total of JDC’s fundraising efforts thus far.

Another organization, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is collecting tax-deductible donations for the Nepalese via its Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund (ajws.org). AJWS representatives were not immediately available for comment.

In addition, Chabad has a full time operation in Kathmandu, and the organization is raising money for the relief effort, working with organizations such as JDC, on the ground. To donate, visit Chabad.org/Nepal.

 Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, a partner organization of the JDC, expressed empathy for the victims of the disaster, saying Angelenos know the consequences of earthquakes all too well.

“Living in Los Angeles we understand earthquakes are something you can’t predict, you can’t control,” he said. “It’s horrible.”

While Federation is not participating in this particular relief effort — Sanderson said the organization has other responsibilities at this time — the Federation leader recommended that people donate to either JDC or IsraAID (israaid.co.il), an Israeli-based agency that provides disaster relief .

“We have so many hot spots in the Jewish world that we have to focus on that we’re recommending people make gifts to other organizations,” he said. “We’re not conducting any kind of campaign. … We’re recommending if people want to make gifts through a Jewish lens, to [give to] either IsraAID or the JDC.”

IsraAID, the IDF, Tevel b’Tzedek, and Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, are among the Israeli-based organizations that are involved with the Jewish State’s wide-ranging relief effort in Nepal. Their work includes dispatching search-and-rescue teams to aid Israelis tourists of the region and to rescue premature babies of Nepalese surrogate mothers who are connected with Israeli adopting couples. (Israel has laws restricting its gay couples from adopting from Israeli surrogate mothers, leading some to look abroad — to places like Nepal — for babies.

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, was among the hardest hit areas of the earthquake. Trekkers at Mount Everest were also affected, as the earthquake triggered an avalanche. Meanwhile, the region has had many aftershocks in the aftermath of the earthquake, prompting Sanderson to describe what’s happening as a great humanitarian crisis.

“There are so many people living out[side] … not even willing to live in any kind of structure because they’re afraid of aftershocks,” he said. “I think it’s a terrible crisis, affecting tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands who live in that country.”

After Nepal quake, some 100 Israelis are reported missing


Some 100 Israelis remain among those reported missing two days after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday, killing more than 3,700 people.

No Israelis have been reported dead, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

When the earthquake began on Saturday, Kathmandu Chabad Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz was in the middle of the Torah reading, but stopped when he felt the ground shake.

It was “as if a small windmill was underground and was moving the entire area,” the Kathmandu Chabad rabbi said.

That night, by the end of the first phase of Nepal’s worst earthquake in 80 years, hundreds of Israelis were crowded into Lifshitz’s courtyard, huddled in their tents and sleeping bags. Local hospitals were saturated with patients, so Lifshitz recruited local doctors to treat lightly injured Israelis at his home.

“All the Israelis got here quickly and just stayed here in shock,” Lifshitz told the Israeli radio station Reshet Bet on Saturday night. “People were frightened and scared. The buildings here are swaying as if they’re a leaf in the wind.”

Nepal has long been a popular destination for young Israelis, many of whom travel there for extended periods following their years of mandatory military service. Israelis have taken to social media to share news of missing relatives. A 260-person Israel Defense Forces mission carrying 95 tons of supplies and 40 doctors departed for Nepal on Monday morning, and will remain for two weeks.

When it arrives, half the Israeli team will set up a field hospital — including operating rooms, X-ray equipment and pediatric care — to provide emergency medical services to the wounded. The other half will conduct search-and-rescue missions in collapsed buildings.

IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner expects Israel’s field hospital to be the first in operation in Nepal. In the past, the IDF has set up field hospitals following natural disasters in Haiti, the Philippines and Japan.

“It’s one of the missions the IDF sees itself prepared for and willing to do,” Lerner told JTA. “The Home Front Command is ultimately built to carry out evacuation-type scenarios in Israel, so they are planning and preparing and executing for buildings that have collapsed here. If we can take that knowledge and help people across the world who are in desperation, it’s the right thing to do.”

A separate, private mission organized by three Israeli emergency response organizations — United Hatzalah, Zaka and First Israel — left Tel Aviv for Nepal on Sunday afternoon and aims to stay two to three weeks. Along with search-and-rescue operations, the mission will provide basic medical care to far-flung villages near the quake’s epicenter whose health clinics are either destroyed or saturated with wounded. IsraAid, which has sent aid missions to 28 countries, and Magen David Adom are also sending delegations.

“There’s an inclination in Israel and the world to come to the center of the action, where the cameras are,” said Dov Maisel, United Hatzalah’s volunteer chief operating officer and the mission’s deputy head. “So there are lots of people who don’t get the care they need.”

In Israel, friends and relatives of missing hiker shared photos and contact information on Facebook while coordinating an extensive grassroots search online. A Facebook page, Earthquake in Nepal, Updates and Search for Israelis, went live on Saturday evening, while a public Google spreadsheet is tracking information on the missing. The Kathmandu Chabad’s Facebook page is also filled with photos and updates on missing Israelis. Two hundred Israelis were initially declared missing, but half have been located.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Oren Rozenblat surmised that many missing Israelis are “out of touch” on hikes in remote regions rather than wounded or killed. Alongside the search effort, the Foreign Ministry has provided special assistance to 26 Israeli babies born to surrogate mothers in Nepal. Eight of the babies, along with their parents, have been flown to Israel, and the rest are expected to arrive in the coming days.

“Hikers in Nepal don’t call mom every day,” Rozenblat said. “They may be in a place without reception, without a phone. That doesn’t mean they have a problem. We don’t know of any Israelis that need help, are wounded or need to be rescued.”

For many Israelis, Nepal and other destinations in south Asia have been a place to unwind after military service and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life.

“It’s recreation and leisure — it doesn’t have the intensity that Israel has,” said Chaim Noy, a professor of communications at the University of South Florida who wrote the 2007 book “Narrative Community: Voices of Israeli Backpackers.”

The Israelis now en route to the Himalayan nation are arriving for a weightier purpose.

“A person in trouble, he doesn’t care who helps him, but when he sees it’s Israel, he’s even happier,” Maisel said. “He can’t believe that they came from a small state halfway around the world to help him.”

Nepal death toll rises as rescue efforts hampered


The death toll from the earthquake in Nepal rose to more than 3,300 (with some estimates as high as 3,700) two days after it struck, as planes carrying rescue workers and aid were delayed due to natural conditions.

One Israeli plane carrying 90 Israeli rescue workers and supplies left Monday morning for Kathmandu after a 12-hour delay, while a second carrying an Israel Defense Forces field hospital and a staff of more than 200 remained poised to take off once a safe runway is confirmed at its destination. The plane was set to leave Israel on Monday evening.

Two Jewish-American men — longtime friends who were planning to hike part of Mount Everest — have not been heard from since the 7.8 magnitude temblor on Saturday morning, the New York Daily News reported.

Danny Cole, 39, a father of four from Crown Heights, New York, and Mendy Losh, 38, originally from Crown Heights and now living in Los Angeles, likely were on a trail that leads to the Everest base camp when the earthquake struck, triggering avalanches in the area, according to the newspaper.

About 100 Israelis remained out of contact in Nepal on Monday morning, down from 150 the day before, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Three Israeli families with babies born to Nepalese surrogate mothers returned to Israel late Sunday night. There reportedly are 23 more such babies, several born prematurely, who are expected to arrive in the next few days following the relaxing of bureaucratic procedures in light of the emergency situation. Four Nepalese surrogate mothers pregnant with Israeli families’ babies may also come to Israel, the Times of Israel reported.

Israel evacuates surrogate-born babies and Israeli parents from Nepal


Israel began evacuating infants born to surrogate mothers and their Israeli parents from Nepal on Monday, on the return legs of flights sent to provide earthquake relief.

Many Israeli male couples have fathered children with the help of surrogate mothers in Nepal because in Israel the procedure is limited by law to heterosexual partners.

Three newborns were ferried to Israel on a small military aircraft that had delivered an advance team of doctors to Nepal to boost rescue efforts after Saturday's devastating earthquake.

The plane flew home with 11 passengers, and Israel's Foreign Ministry said preparations were under way to bring another 22 infants, the parents who had travelled to Nepal before the disaster to collect them and four surrogate mothers to Israel on other return flights.

Yossi Filiba, a 44-year-old single father from Tel Aviv, said by telephone from Kathmandu that he had gone to Nepal more than three weeks ago for the birth of his baby girl, Na'ama.

He said he and several Israeli couples and their surrogate babies had found shelter in the ground floor of a building in the capital, and were waiting for the Israeli air force to evacuate them.

“We don't know when they will get here,” he said. “The water is going to finish and I am with a small baby. There is very little food and no electricity, although sometimes there is a generator.”

Filiba said Israeli parents usually spend a month in Nepal for their child's birth and to make final arrangements to bring the infant home. The earthquake that hit on Saturday caught Filiba in his apartment, feeding Na'ama.

“I grabbed the baby, ran down three floors and out to open space. All around us, small buildings were collapsing and people were terrified,” he said.

Israel's military has already dispatched an 80-member search and rescue team to Nepal and planned to send other aircraft with a field hospital and medical personnel later on Monday.

Filiba said the planes could not come soon enough.

“There are cracks all over the building,” he said. “I'm not sleeping because of the baby – which is a good reason – but I'm also not sleeping because of worries about the building collapsing.”

Israel's parliament is considering legislation that would allow same-sex couples and singles to have babies through surrogacy in Israel itself.

Two Israelis killed in Nepal bus accident


Two Israelis were killed and at least three wounded in a tourist bus accident Friday in Nepal.

The bus drove off a mountainside 20 miles north of Kathmandu Friday morning, killing at least 11 people, including Israelis Shira Dabbush, 30, and Omer Shemesh, 22, the Times of Israel reported.

Citing Israeli and Nepalese media reports, the Times of Israel said between three and six more Israelis and at least 48 people, most of them tourists, were wounded in the crash

The bus, which was traveling from Katmandu to the Langtana National Park, plunged at least 50 meters down the mountainside.

The accident comes less than two weeks after four Israeli climbers (and 39 others) in Nepal were killed in an avalanche there.

The Walla news site reported that the two Israelis killed had initially planned to travel to the region where the avalanche occurred, but changed their plans in its aftermath.

Iranian national accused of planning attack on Israeli embassy in Nepal


Security at the Israeli Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, detained an Iranian man believed to be planning a terror attack on the embassy and on Israeli visitors.

The man, caught scouting the building, was discovered to have a fake Israeli passport, which he acquired in Kuala Lumpur sometime after March 31 and used to enter Nepal, according to The Himalayan.

The Iranian national, identified as Mohsin Khosravian,  was arrested on April 13 after Israeli security personnel turned him over to Nepalese police and he remains in police custody, according to the news website. 

Nepal Police's Central Bureau of Investigation and Special Bureau are investigating his “frequent and suspicious visits” to the Israeli Embassy area, The Himalayan reported. He has been charged under the Public Offense Act.

Khosravian has been living in Bangkok since 2004 and has been married to a Thai woman for five years.

Israel has accused Iran of being involved in coordinated attacks on Israeli missions in New Delhi, India and Tbilisi, Georgia on Feb. 13, 2012.