Opinion: In Japan, pride in the Jewish response to tsunami


As I sit here in Tokyo with the first anniversary of the tsunami fast approaching, I recall my surprise the first time a Japanese person thanked me, as a Jew, for Israel’s immediate response to the disaster. It was certainly not the time to instruct that well-meaning person that not all Jews are from Israel—the average Japanese does not make a distinction between them—so instead I proudly basked in the thought of Israel being the first country to come to Japan’s aid with its emergency field hospital.

The second time, however, I was not caught off guard: I had prepared a little speech in which I told of what the the Jewish Community of Japan, of which I am the rabbi, was doing together with the global Jewish community to help people in the face of crisis. I was able to report on stories of individual members of our community—mostly made up of American, European and Israeli Jews—who in the first hours after the disaster purchased tons of flour and food, and managed to deliver it to the displaced. I also told them about the many local Jews who organized food drives, raised money and took time from work to volunteer with the cleanup.

Most especially, I told them the tale of the 11-year-old girl from our thriving Hebrew school who singlehandedly organized the first bicycle drive through which she collected nearly 100 pairs of shoes to distribute in a destitute town in the north of Japan.

I have told these stories many times. But what really impresses the people here is the story of the almost instantaneous global Jewish response to the disaster. The effort came in many forms, such as Chabad, the Israeli field hospital or IsraAID. For us at the Jewish Community of Japan, the effort manifested itself in our partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which reached out to us within 24 hours of the earthquake offering its support.

In the first days after the disaster, those who remained in Japan felt the urgency to do something. This desire was combined with the fear and anxiety caused by the conflicting reports about the situation. It was a “time to act for the Lord,” but it was not clear what we could do. Some 2,000 Jews are living in Japan, and none of us had been affected irreversibly by the quake, thank God. However, the tragedy we faced as a nation was overwhelming.

As such, it was deeply important that our individual efforts at the time were soon combined with the help of those from outside Japan. It represented a powerful vehicle for us to act quickly and collectively on our natural desire to help. After all, we wanted our country to know that we care for her and her people, as the Talmud says, “at a time when the community is in distress, none should say: I’ll go to the privacy of my home and have a party.”

Since those early days, we have made a lasting impact on the life of tens of thousands of individuals. By combining the Jewish Community of Japan’s local guidance—including accessing our friends and family, business relationships and closeness to Japanese society—and the JDC’s expertise in disaster relief, we’ve put programs into action to support various groups in the disaster areas – for children, the deaf and hearing impaired, the elderly, the physically disabled and the displaced. Among our many achievements, we have brought in Israeli post-trauma specialists who have worked and trained the local social workers and teachers to help children suffering in fear, and found ways, in addition to our other work, to provide meals for those living in evacuation shelters and temporary housing.

But what I believe is the biggest success yet is the establishment of 13 community cafes in Ishinomaki, the town hit the hardest by the tsunami. I knew full well about these cafes, a venue for displaced people of the area to gather and receive informal psychological support while participating in activities, classes and programs, or plain, old-fashioned schmoozing.

I was pleasantly surprised to have another moment of Jewish pride, when at one of the many interfaith meetings I attend, a church minister lauded the cafes as a successful example of outreach and support. At that moment I could not help myself and expressed with true satisfaction that these cafes had been possible thanks to the generosity and expertise of the Jewish community. Seeing the look of positive surprise on the faces of my fellow clergy, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this the bread coming back to us upon the water?”

Perhaps no greater example of this connection between the Jews of Japan and our neighbors is our project to repair the Buddhist Komyogi Temple in Oshu. As part of the effort, we are creating a joint program to provide a respite for the beleaguered children of Rikuzentakata, a city devastated by the tsunami. Through children’s activities and numerous opportunities for exchange between our families and theirs, a dialogue between our communities will be built on the ideals of mutual responsibility and human compassion. All of this, of course, would not be possible without the support of Jews from abroad.

A constant source of “naches” for me as a rabbi, this outpouring of help speaks to one of the Jewish values I cherish most, tikkun olam. It also highlights, perhaps better than anything I have ever seen, the strengthening of bridges existing between the Japanese people and Israel and the Jews. Despite my initial reaction to the compliment from my Japanese neighbor, I have seen in the last year that we are one people. And together we can save lives, wherever in the world we are needed.

Antonio Di Gesu, a native of Italy and graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, is the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan.

Holocaust Documentary Screening Raises Funds for Japan Earthquake Victims


A documentary about Chiune Sempo Sugihara — who saved thousands of Jews while he was vice consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania during World War II — screened at the Skirball Cultural Center on June 23 to raise funds for Japan’s earthquake victims.

“Conspiracy of Kindness” follows Sugihara’s efforts to issue transit visas to Jews from Poland and Lithuania, enabling them to travel to Japan. Having saved more than 60,000 Jewish refugees, he received Israel’s Righteous Among the Nations award.

The film, by Robert Kirk and Diane Estelle Vicari, aired on PBS in 2005;  Vicari organized the fundraiser.

The event raised approximately $4,000, plus an additional anonymous donation of $2,000, Vicari said. Proceeds will benefit the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, which has raised more than $9 million so far.

Approximately 300 people attended the fundraiser, including Academy Award-nominated actor Theodore Bikel. Speakers included Israel Consul General Jacob Dayan; Hirotaka Kakita, consul general of Japan; and Carl Hartill, consul general of Canada.

Months later, Jewish groups and Israel are helping a tsunami-devastated Japan


In northeastern Japan, the area hardest hit by the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, a team of Israeli post-trauma experts guided local teachers and officials through their lingering pain.

One kindergarten teacher broke down in tears as she related how another teacher saw the great wall of water approaching her school and tried in vain to save her young pupils. Eight of the children were washed away, along with their valiant teacher.

“People were not aware how much the disaster affected them,” said Shachar Zahavi, the founder and executive director of IsraAid, a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit that is running post-trauma courses in the town of Watari, as well as providing other much-needed material and emotional aid in the region.

More than two months after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resultant tsunami destroyed thousands of homes, entire towns and countless lives in Japan, Jewish groups from North America and Israel continue to offer a helping hand to the Asian island nation.

“It’s not like the scene in Haiti,” said Zahavi, referring to the many international agencies, including several from Israel, that poured into the quake-stricken Caribbean island in 2010. “Most of the other agencies have left Japan by now. A lot of people, in Japan and Israel, are amazed we’re still there.”

The Jewish Federations of North America has raised more than $1 million for Japan. More than $800,000 has come from individual federations; the rest has been raised through donations to the parent organization. Most of the money is funneled through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and its local agencies on the ground.

The JDC, the Home Front Command and Medical Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, and IsraAid all rushed to the scene of the disaster, offering emergency aid as well as ongoing help.

According to its communications director, Michael Geller, the JDC has raised $2.1 million for Japan aid. Much of it went to emergency supplies sent to the stricken region by foreign agencies, including Chabad, UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee. It also helped fund the IDF field hospital set up in Minamisanriku, a town in the Miyagi Prefecture where half of the 17,000 residents died in the tsunami.

The JDC is working through its partner agencies in Japan. With the American School there, the JDC bought desks and chairs for three schools in the city of Ishinomaki, and in tandem with Tokyo English Life Line is providing psycho-social support services and training to mental health professionals who work with children and the elderly. Geller said that more than 100 people will be trained by mid-June.

When the IDF medical corps pulled out of Japan in early April after treating 234 patients in its field hospital, it left behind more than healed bodies.

At the request of local officials, the Israelis left much of the specialized medical gear they had brought, including X-ray, ophthalmologic, orthopedic and ENT equipment, as well as surgical coats, syringes, bandages and other material supplies.

The team also donated the six prefabricated buildings it had set up for its field clinic, which has become the area’s main medical center, said Col.Ofir Cohen-Marom, an ob-gyn from Assaf Harofeh Hospital and the deputy to the IDF’s chief medical officer.

“We were the only foreign medical delegation in Japan,” Cohen-Marom told JTA, explaining that usually only Japanese physicians are permitted to treat the Japanese population.

At first the Israeli team was escorted by medical personnel from Japan’s Foreign Ministry, he said, presumably to make sure that they were providing proper care. Within a few days, however, the locals and the Israelis were working together, consulting on the same patients.

“It was hard to leave this suffering population after 2 1/2 weeks,” Cohen-Marom said. “It makes me happy to see they’re using the supplies and medical center we left behind. We really did a great thing.”

Marom-Cohen estimated that it will take up to three years for the region to rebuild, including constructing a new hospital. During that time, he said, the locals will continue to use the Israeli clinic and equipment.

IsraAid still has three or four staffers working in Japan, said Zahavi. The organization rehabilitated two kindergartens and distributed toys and school supplies to children via six shelters in Watari, Yamamoto and Sendai, and completed a 10-day post-trauma course for some three dozen teachers in Watari.

It’s the post-trauma help that is most unique, Zahavi told JTA.

Israel’s lengthy experience with war and terrorism, he explained, makes it particularly qualified to offer the fruits of that knowledge to others. In Japan, where emotions are not typically displayed publicly, the teachers seemed grateful for the help, and the organization is receiving much support from the local community and government officials.

“It’s the first time these people have gone through post-trauma sessions where they could share their individual experiences and talk about their feelings,” Zahavi said. “There was a lot of crying, a lot of emotion.

“But it’s not just about talking—we teach how to express feelings through touch, drawing and writing as well. That was new for them.”

IsraAid will offer another course in June with a broader focus, he said.

As with the other Jewish aid to Japan, what’s noteworthy is the partnership between Israeli and North American Jewish communities, Zahavi points out. IsraAid’s emergency relief program in Japan is supported and funded by the Jewish federations of Toronto, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as well as the JFNA, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International.

“This is something that the Jewish people is giving, not just Israel,” he said.

Israeli military aid delegation to Japan returns home


The Israel Defense Forces’ aid delegation to Japan returned home, leaving medical equipment behind for local doctors to use.

The delegation, which brought 62 tons of medical supplies and 18 tons of humanitarian aid to the city of Minami-Sanriko, hard hit by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March, landed in Israel on Tuesday.

In its more than two weeks in Japan, the team of 50 doctors, communications specialists and search-and-rescue experts established a medical clinic and cared for 220 patients.

The team left behind the majority of the medical equipment, including X-ray machinery and lab equipment.

Federations raise $1,349,000 in Japan relief


Jewish federations throughout North America have raised $1,349,000 to help Japan recover from last month’s massive earthquake and tsunami.

The federations’ Japan, Hawaii and Pacific Relief Fund, opened immediately following the earthquake and resultant tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, has collected the money to support relief and recovery efforts in the damaged areas.

The Jewish Federations of North America, the umbrella group of the federation movement, has directly raised more than $187,000 through online, mobile and mailed donations.

Several individual federations also have opened funds, which have yielded nearly $680,000 in combined donations. As of April 8, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the UJA-Federation of New York have raised more than $125,000 each, while the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s fundraising has totaled more than $100,000.

The Emergency Committee of The Jewish Federations of North America voted April 8 to allocate $125,000 of the funds raised to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which is supporting victims on the ground in Japan through local humanitarian organizations. The allocation is on top of an allocation last month of $135,000. The committee also made an allocation to the Israeli humanitarian umbrella group IsraAID to support their efforts on the ground – specifically in the area of creating Child Friendly spaces.

“The Jewish Federations stand ready to respond to disaster with the strength of our collective action, to ensure that the funds contributed by generous donors are put to work in the most effective way possible,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America. “Working in partnership with our trusted overseas partner, JDC, we can be sure that these funds will have the greatest impact where they are needed most in Japan.”

Marty Kaplan: The more you watch, the worse you feel


As if the triple whammy of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster weren’t enough to enthrall and terrify us, the war in Libya is now providing cable news viewers a fresh hell to follow 24/7. 

But wait, as they say in the infomercials—there’s more.  In Bahrain, Saudi tanks and troops are violently cracking down on pro-democracy activists; in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is moving toward power; in Yemen, security forces, firing from the rooftops, have killed scores of demonstrators; in Syria, troops are shooting into crowds of protesting civilians; and last week’s news from Israel and the Palestinian territories was enough to make anyone rage and wail.

Feeling overwhelmed yet?  In Madison, Wisc. and other state capitals, Republicans are demonizing public employees, stripping workers of their rights and using deficits as an excuse to transfer wealth from the middle to the top.  In Washington, D.C., every Republican on the environment subcommittee says that climate change is a hoax, and every Republican on the financial institutions subcommittee says banks are the victims, not the perpetrators, of the recession.  Who has enough spare neurons to cope with that, let alone the defunding of NPR and Planned Parenthood?  Do you have some mindshare left for a campaign finance system that’s corrupting both political parties?  For the obesity epidemic?  For the worst youth unemployment in history?

These are the times that fry men’s souls.  It’s tough to know which is worse for us: keeping up with calamity, or tuning out the news.  We are brought up to believe that good citizenship requires being informed, diligently following what’s going on in the world.  We are offered so many attention decoys – Charlie Sheen!  William and Kate!  Sarah Palin! – that we can use up all our bandwidth and still know next to nothing.  With considerable will power, we might be able to avoid a lot of empty info-calories, but even a broccoli-heavy media diet can leave us feeling expert but impotent, knowledgeable but exhausted, good critical thinkers but frazzled basket cases. 

Oh, did I forget to mention terrorism?

The temptation is to unplug, go on a media fast, declare a digital Sabbath, pull the covers over your head, yet succumbing to this perfectly reasonable survival strategy is exactly what the bad guys want.  Ignorance isn’t bliss; it’s slavery.  The less you know, the easier it is to manipulate you, to fool you into undermining your own interests, to jerk your emotional chains.

Until about 20 minutes ago, the threat that ignorance poses to democracy could be sourced to hedonism, propaganda and the desire to make a buck.  There’s nothing like bread and circuses to stop discontent from boiling over; there’s nothing like disinformation and paranoia to give science and journalism a bad name; there’s nothing like an oligarch to make amnesia profitable.

What seems different today is that the virtuous desire to be well-informed is also the source of its own discontent.  The more you know, the less you want to know.  Maybe the unexamined life is not worth living, but is the examined life – the examined world – worth all of that Maalox and Ambien?  Civic literacy seems to have become a kind of auto-immune disease; you want to attack the world’s problems, but what you end up attacking is yourself.

Social media, of course, makes all of this more so.  I’m always surprised by how often people ask me if I’m on Facebook and Twitter, and when I say yes, they say, “Well, I suppose you have to, because of what you do.”  They say it as though I’m running a risk, like an exterminator inhaling pesticide – in this case, the fumes of triviality: “Why would you want to know every time someone you know goes to the bathroom?” 

I find it hard to convince people who don’t use social media that what most characterizes it isn’t its banality, it’s its density.  Sure, there’s plenty of Justin Bieber clogging its arteries.  But what I mainly get from Facebook and Twitter are links – a torrent of news and opinion only one click away, an exponential increase in the amount of information that I check out, skim, save, consume, forward.  And a good deal of that information (the stuff I actually read) is useful and thoughtful.  It’s a global network of content that I’ve often missed, material that’s curated and syndicated both by people I know and by people I don’t know.  It puts my news intake on steroids.

That’s good news (I know even more), and bad news (I feel even worse).  But as long as I’m addicted to following all the damn narratives going on in the world, I prefer that the headaches that the news gives me be as cosmopolitan as possible.

There’s no comparison between the suffering the people of Japan are enduring, and the anguish of watching and reading about it.  Here, Libya raises wrenching conflicts between our ideals and our interests; there, it’s simpler: life or death.  The risk isn’t that we’ll confuse our anxieties with their catastrophes; it’s that we’ll mistake being informed with being empowered, and being exhausted with being defeated.  Citizenship is doing something, not watching something.  The hundred thousand people who rallied in Madison the other weekend knew that; so did the protesters of Tahrir Square.  The antidote to information sickness isn’t less information.  It’s more politics.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair in entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at {encode=”martyk@usc.edu” title=”martyk@usc.edu”}.

Israel reconsidering nuclear power plans in light of Japan crisis


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN that Israel is reconsidering its plans for a nuclear energy facility in light of what happened in Japan. The interview is set to be aired later on Thursday.

Japan is facing a nuclear crisis after a major earthquake and tsunami led to explosions and rising radiation levels in the country’s nuclear plants. The UN nuclear watchdog said on Thursday the situation at the damaged Japanese nuclear power plant remained very serious but no major worsening had occurred since Wednesday.

Israel created a plan for a nuclear energy plant to be located in the Negev several years ago but it has yet come into fruition.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Purim and the tsunami


Purim seems to have come at the wrong time this year. It’s Adar-be Happy! But how can we be happy when there are images of destruction all around us, as Japan plunges into a nuclear disaster of huge proportions on the heels of a 9.0 earthquake and a terrifying Tsunami? How can we joyously wave our gragers against the evil Haman when we are deluged by images of tens of thousands of people swept into the sea?  How can we celebrate this holiday when our world seems to be spinning out of control?

Not only is it Adar, but a year of “double Adar”, when the Jewish calendar equilibrates itself by adding an additional month to the year. My personal doubts about this month of double happiness began in Adar 1, when a small spot on my nose blossomed into a skin cancer problem of what seemed like epic proportions. In an effort to contain a microscopic basal cell, a dermatologist shaved the skin off of the entire end of my nose. I emerged from her office with an early Purim costume, looking like Bozo the Clown. I had not planned for this. I was entirely out of control.

Which brings us to the secret of the story of Purim. The very name Esther, young Jewess who takes heroic action to save her people, comes from the Hebrew word “nistar” or hidden. The secret of Purim is that the name of God does not appear in the story because “It is all God”, and when the masks that contain all life are stripped away, there is really nothing left but the raw energy of the life force, the vitality that “enlivens” the world. As we seek to contain our life in the vessel that is our body and the world around it, we seek to control this force. A small skin cancer races out of my control, and the only comfort is the compassion and help of the people around me.  Someone needs to step up, like Queen Esther, and say, “Rabbi, I have a way to help”. God does not appear in the Purim story, because unlike the Passover story, where God openly manipulates the energy of plagues and seawalls, on Purim we are on our own.  On Purim, human action, not God’s action, makes all the difference.

On Purim, the masks are stripped away. Haman is revealed as the embodiment of the Evil Force, Esther and Mordecai stand for The Good. But we are asked on Purim to get so drunk as “not to know the difference between Haman and Mordecai” because ultimately, (and this is Purim’s secret!) everything, all energy, contains both good and evil. It is in our human hands to bend that energy as a force for the good.  Atomic energy, which is produced by stripping away the containers of individual atoms, releases a raw power that is neither good or evil, but carries the potential for both-it is up to US to make the decisions that strengthen the positive aspects of this power as we contain it to power our lives.

But are we in control? Sometimes, our control is overpowered or seduced away by the “sitra achra”, the negative force, which works through our own tendencies toward greed or anger.  Atomic weapons proliferate. Inspections are falsified. The ozone layer is knocked out by fossil fuels, and skin cancer erupts. And sometimes, yes,  “stuff just happens”.

The name Purim literally translates as “lots”, a multiple of the Hebrew word “pur”. Purim means the dice or “pur” that Haman throws to decide in which month the Jews are to be killed. There is a chance factor beyond our understanding that is beyond our control, and as human beings, we can only decide how to react to its results.  Why did the 9.0 earthquake happen in Japan this time, and not California? Why did the tsunami rush inwards, and not across the ocean to Laguna Beach? We are powerless to control certain forces of nature, and, as in the Purim story, we can only take up arms to combat the evil when it has been unleashed.

At this very moment in time, on Purim 2011, Adar 14, 5771, the masks that conceal the power of God’s energy have been fleetingly striped away. The diagrams of the current atomic crisis say it all. There are cracks in the containment structure, the borders that define the limits of inside and outside have been breached, and raw energy has been released. Now, it is up to us to write the rest of the story.

On Purim, and we are called upon- no COMMANDED-  to celebrate, and to embrace life, with all of its potentials. In the face of death, we are to choose life, and take our chances. The nose on my Purim mask reveals it all.

Hag Sameach.

Japan turns to U.S. in face of worsening nuclear crisis


Japan said Wednesday that further assistance from the United States was needed to help keep the nuclear cores at a power plant from overheating, after last week’s quake and tsunami knocked out the plant’s cooling systems.

Tokyo may also request the help from members of the U.S. military stationed in Japan, government spokesman Yukio Edano said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it has sent two experts to Japan, and had been asked to send cooling equipment.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Third explosion rocks earthquake-damaged Japan nuclear plant


A third explosion in four days rocked the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan early Tuesday, the country’s nuclear safety agency said.

The blast at Dai-ichi Unit 2 followed two hydrogen explosions at the plant – the latest on Monday – as authorities struggle to prevent the catastrophic release of radiation in the area devastated by a tsunami.

The troubles at the Dai-ichi complex began when Friday’s massive quake and tsunami in Japan’s northeast knocked out power, crippling cooling systems
needed to keep nuclear fuel from melting down.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Japan braces for potential radiation catastrophe as 140,000 could be affected


Japan faced a potential catastrophe Tuesday after a quake-crippled nuclear power plant exploded and sent low levels of radiation floating toward Tokyo, prompting some people to flee the capital and others to stock up on essential supplies.

The crisis appeared to escalate late in the day when the operators of the facility said that one of two blasts had blown a hole in the building housing a reactor, which meant spent nuclear fuel was exposed to the atmosphere.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people within 30 km (18 miles) of the facility—a population of 140,000—to remain indoors amid the world’s most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Japan disaster and Itamar killings put Jewish giving on the spot


Almost as soon as the catastrophe in Japan began unfolding last Friday, Jewish groups scrambled to figure out how to get help to the area.

In Israel, search-and-rescue organizations like ZAKA and IsraAid readied teams to head to the Japanese devastation zone. In Tokyo, the Chabad center took an accounting of local Jews and began organizing a shipment of aid to stricken cities to the north. In the United States, aid organizations ranging from B’nai B’rith International to local and national federation agencies launched campaigns to collect money for rescue, relief and rebuilding efforts in the Pacific.

But then Shabbat came, and with it the news that a suspected Palestinian terrorist had brutally murdered five family members in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Itamar, and the focus of the Jewish community seemed to shift.

“Not sure who to think about first,” Nadia Levine, a British Israeli event planner living in Jerusalem, wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “The devastated remaining members of the Fogel family from Itamar, Gilad Shalit — 5 years in Hamas captivity — or the survivors of the Japanese tragedy and the dangers they may be facing.”

The Orthodox Union, which sent out a message last Friday calling on supporters to donate to the organization’s newly established earthquake emergency fund, sent out another urgent message two days later calling on donors to give money to the OU’s victims of terrorism fund.

As of late Monday, the totals collected by each fund were running neck and neck, the OU’s chief operating officer, David Frankel, said in an interview.

“We have an obligation to care for our own,” Frankel said, “but the enormity of the tragedy that happened in Japan is so extraordinary that for the Jewish community not to have an outpouring of support would not only be a denial of one of our primary obligations to care for everyone in their time of need,” he said, but also a missed opportunity to honor the memory of Chiune Sugihara — the Japanese consul general to Lithuania who in 1940 helped save at least 6,000 Lithuanian Jews from the hands of the Nazis by getting them transit visas to Japan.

“The Japanese community helped us in our time of need; this is our way to help them in their time of need,” Frankel said. “We can never repay the debt, but this is the right thing to do.”

By Tuesday, Israeli teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists had reached the suburbs of Tokyo, and they were in contact with aid workers in the northern part of the country where the tsunami hit hardest, according to Shachar Zahavi, chairman of IsraAid.

Several American Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation in Chicago and the American Jewish Committee, are funneling money to IsraAid for disaster relief in Japan.

In Tokyo, the Chabad center commissioned a bakery in Sendai, one of the cities battered by the tsunami, to bake bread for its residents and surrounding areas. The center also trucked several tons of food and supplies to Sendai, Chabad officials said. The officials estimated that Chabad’s relief in Japan is costing approximately $25,000 per day.

In the United States, Jewish humanitarian organizations reported that the money was coming in fast for mailboxes set up to receive donations for Japanese disaster relief.

“We are determined to provide emergency relief as quickly as possible and to work with our partners to provide support over the longer term as well,” said Fred Zimmerman, chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Emergency Committee.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the main overseas partner for the Jewish Federations, said it had collected more than $100,000 over the first weekend.

What makes the Japanese situation a unique challenge for Jewish humanitarian organizations is the absence of relationships in a country that traditionally has been an aid donor, not a recipient.

Indeed, when the American Jewish World Service, which led the Jewish aid response to the 2004 Asian tsunami, was asked what its aid effort would be for Japan, the answer was none at all because AJWS has no partners in the country, spokesman Joshua Berkman said.

The JDC found itself in a similar situation.

“We had no programs in Japan prior to the earthquake; we just worked with the local Jewish community,” said Will Recant, an assistant executive vice president at JDC.

But almost immediately after the earthquake and tsunami hit, the JDC consulted with the Jewish community in Tokyo to identify local Japanese nongovernmental organizations working in the affected areas. By Tuesday, JDC had begun funneling money to JEN, a Tokyo-based organization specializing in shelter reconstruction, support of the socially vulnerable and emergency supply distribution that had managed to send personnel to the ravaged Japanese prefectures of Miyagi and Fukushima.

As with other disasters, Recant said JDC will stick around to help with long-term relief, budget allowing. Only money raised specifically for Japan will be spent on disaster relief. There is no money in JDC’s budget for additional nonsectarian, humanitarian work, Recant said.

While Japan continues to reel from the triple disaster of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, a massive tsunami and a subsequent nuclear crisis, experts in Israel are trying to figure out what lessons from Japan can be applied to the Jewish state, which lies on two fault lines, the Carmel fault and the Dead Sea fault.

Israel experiences tremors every so often, but the last time a ruinous earthquake struck the area was in 1927, when the West Bank city of Nablus suffered serious damage. An 1837 earthquake destroyed much of the northern Israeli cities of Safed and Tiberias and left thousands dead.

Israeli building codes have been updated for better earthquake safety compliance, but regulations and enforcement still are said to lag behind places like California, which experiences larger and more frequent quakes.

“There’s still a lot that has to be done as far as building codes are concerned,” said professor Michael Lazar, a tectonics expert at the University of Haifa. “There’s an attempt to encourage people to renovate older buildings and make them earthquake ready, but it really hasn’t caught on.”

A scenario in which Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona, in the Negev Desert, would face the kind of meltdown scenario situation that Japan is seeing now is much less likely, Lazar said, because Dimona is far from the tectonic lines that cross Israel.

“But,” he cautioned, “it’s hard to tell how an earthquake would disperse.”

Japan earthquake relief: How you can help

Israeli team leaves for Japan aid mission


A civilian Israeli search-and-rescue team left for Japan in the aftermath of a major earthquake and tsunami.

The team organized by IsraAID, an Israeli humanitarian umbrella group, left Israel Sunday morning to assist in an area to be determined by Japanese authorities, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The group—six medical professionals and search-and-rescue experts—said it would reach Japan, which was struck last Friday by an 8.9-magnitude quake and then a tsunami, through South Korea, and then continue on to Toyko or Osaka.

Meanwhile, five Israeli businessmen and one Israeli tourist had not been located as of Saturday night, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

As many as 400 Israeli tourists are currently in Japan, according to reports.

Jewish groups mobilizing response to massive Japan earthquake and tsunami


Japan earthquake relief: How you can help

Jewish organizations are mobilizing their responses to the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday.

IsraAid, an Israel-based coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, said Friday that it has two teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists ready to deploy to Japan but was looking for ways to reach the affected area.

Because the airports in the affected area are flooded and Tokyo-area airports closed on Friday, IsraAid said it was exploring the possibility of flying to a nearby country and then trying to make it to northeast Japan, where the tsunami has killed hundreds and devastated cities and towns.

“We’re in touch with local groups to check the situation in the area,” Shachar Zahavi, chairman of the group, told JTA in a telephone interview. “We’re trying to get to the closest airport and then get to the affected area from there.”

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement reported that its emissary in Tokyo said the Jewish community there largely was spared any serious injury or damage from the 8.9-magnitude quake that rocked the city Friday morning.

ZAKA, the Orthodox-led rescue and recovery organization, announced Friday that it would send a search-and-rescue team to Japan as soon as Shabbat in Israel ended on Saturday night.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would help in whatever way possible.

The Japanese consul in Israel, Mitoshiko Shinomya, told the Israeli news webstie Ynet that he was heartened by the Israeli government’s offer of assistance. “Israel officially offered its help an hour after the earthquake struck,” Shinomya said. “It is very heart-warming, but at this point we do not know exactly what the extent of the damage is, so it is difficult for us to say what can be done.”

The Jewish Federations of North America is setting up an emergency relief fund to help those in affected areas, a spokesman said, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a federation partner, opened a mailbox Friday for donations to be used for Japan/Pacific disaster relief. Donations can be made at https://jdc.org/donation/donate.aspx.

“JDC is now conducting an up-to-the-minute assessment of the situation in Japan and the Pacific Rim and has activated its network of partners to determine critical, immediate needs of the hardest-hit areas,” the organization said in a statement Friday.

A spokesman for American Jewish World Service, which played a leading Jewish role in responding to the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, said it would not be responding to the Japan tsunami because AJWS, which works in the developing world, does not have any partner organizations in Japan.

As Feingold exits, Senate loses a principled liberal


The speech that Russ Feingold gave to end his career in the U.S. Senate was much like his career itself: by turns crystal clear, obscure, ornery, defiant and gracious—and quoting a fellow Great Plains Jew to boot.

“But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free, I’ve got nothing but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me,” the three-term U.S. senator from Wisconsin said Nov. 2, quoting Bob Dylan while conceding to Republican Ron Johnson, a Tea Party-backed plastics billionaire who beat him by a 52-47 percent split at the polls.

Then, “It’s on to the next fight. It’s on to the next battle. It’s on to 2012!”

Feingold’s spokesmen later denied that the senator was hinting at a Democratic presidential bid exploration like the one he had pursued in 2006-07. What he did mean they wouldn’t say.

It was typical of the fiercely independent streak that put Feingold into office and may well have pushed him out.

Ira Forman, the former director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said Feingold’s refusal to accept outside campaign money may have helped elect him in the past but likely was his downfall in this election.

“He wouldn’t accept DSCC ads,” Forman said, referring to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, typical of the bodies that run negative ads against opponents. “He often ran against people who were the beneficiary of that kind of advertising. He hoped people would stand up for his integrity, as they had in the past.”

Forman’s voice tinged with regret.

“He’s an independent voice, a loss to Democrats and the Jewish community,” he said of Feingold.

In fact, Feingold’s Jewish identity, while strong, rarely manifested itself in leadership roles on Israel, Holocaust commemoration or the other areas that many Jewish lawmakers have made their own.

That was an approach rooted in a childhood in Janesville, Wis., a Plains town near the Illinois border. Feingold, 57, has described his upbringing as blessedly free of anti-Semitism.

“I was honored because I was Jewish,” Feingold said, describing teachers and other grown-ups to Sanford Horwitt, who wrote a political biography, “Feingold: A New Democratic Party.” “It was an amazing way to be treated.”

In 2003, asked by the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle whether Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) stood a chance in his presidential bid, Feingold’s answer was why not?

“As a Jewish candidate from a state with a small Jewish population, I don’t feel I faced any issues as a Jew,” Feingold said. “In fact, it may sound naive, but I think some voters regarded my being Jewish as interesting. I’ve only had a good experience.”

The Feingold family was socially involved, erudite and reserved—characteristics that continue to define Russ Feingold. His staff is fiercely loyal to him, although he keeps them at a distance.

Feingold is discomfited by forthright fans. The Dylan song he chose to quote, “Mississippi,” speaks to the senator’s teasing intellect: It is not from Dylan’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, but from his 2001 album, “Love and Theft.”

Feingold’s lawyer father, Leon, was the first Jewish president of the local Rotary Club who mingled with farmer clients at 4-H events. (Leon’s father, Max, a refugee from Russia, established the family to the town and immigrated to Israel in 1950.)

Feingold has said that his Jewish legacy is manifest in his political career.

“I understood my religion as the pursuit of justice,” he told Horwitt.

That’s pretty much the extent of his public leadership on Jewish issues, although he routinely joins initiatives launched by other Jewish Congress members, recently expressing concerns to the Turkish government over its distancing from Israel and in 2008 joining a raft of Jewish senators pushing back against rumors that President Obama is a Muslim. He attends services on the High Holidays, and his sister, Dena, is a rabbi in Kenosha, south of Milwaukee.

Still, a national Jewish community that has a soft spot for independent liberals embraced Feingold. He drew Jewish support in his successful 1992 senatorial bid to oust the Republican incumbent, Bob Kasten, even though Kasten had a strong pro-Israel record.

“He is somebody who’s remarkably dedicated to civil liberties and to the Constitution, and has the courage of his convictions,” said Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director of the National Council for Jewish Women. “He took a lot of gutsy stands,” she said, citing Feingold’s lone dissent in 2001 when the Senate approved the U.S. Patriot Act.

That vote drew derision at a time of heightened concerns over terrorism, but eventually made him a hero of the Democratic base. It is a legacy still in dispute: A televised encounter last week between two liberals, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell over whether Feingold should have tacked further right to get re-elected—O’Donnell’s position—has gone viral in the blogosphere.

Feingold was among a handful of lawmakers in the recent election who drew the endorsement of both J Street, the “pro-peace, pro-Israel” group, and donors associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Officials in both groups lamented his departure.

Feingold’s independence was his biggest draw. With. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), he crafted a law severely limiting corporate donations to campaigns. Unlike McCain, who won re-election last week, Feingold abided by the rules of his law even after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it.

“This was a public servant who visibly, proudly and courageously stood on principle,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, which backs election reform. “His effort to make America’s election system more fair and transparent made major contributions to good government.”

It was an independence borne of his upbringing and the turbulent 1960s in which he came of age. Feingold’s home, harmonious in its support of liberal causes until the ‘60s, was riven by a split between Feingold’s two father figures: His father supported the war in Vietnam, and his brother David, older by five years, opposed it.

Feingold emerged from the era determined to do what best hewed to his philosophical principles, and in the process he occasionally frustrated his party. In 1998 he famously was the only Democrat to vote to consider the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment of President Clinton—not because he believed Clinton was guilty, but because he believed in the constitutional process of impeachment.

Three years later he voted to confirm former Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) as attorney general, even though they were polar opposites on critical civil liberties questions. Feingold’s reason: his abiding belief that a president, in this case George W. Bush, had the right to pick his Cabinet. He later also supported Bush’s nominee for Supreme Court chief justice, John Roberts.

His explanation of his Ashcroft vote in 2001, to skeptical Feingoldians at The Progressive, a liberal journal, presaged the vituperative climate that brought about his downfall.

“I believe we have to hold the line and not use ideology alone in making decisions about Cabinet appointments,” Feingold said. “I fear if we keep going, more and more areas of our government are going to fall into the Great Divide and be engulfed in a culture war.”

Special Report


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“> This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

KANCHIPURAM DISTRICT, INDIA — The bright, clear morning of Dec. 26, 2004, would forever change S. Desingu’s life.

The first monster wave rose from the Sea of Bengal without warning at 8 a.m. — silently, massively.

For the Indian fishermen at sea, the startling energy pulse bumped harmlessly under their boats, passing in an instant. The wave started to rise ominously in the shallows.

Onshore, the 36-year-old Desingu glanced up to see a 30-foot liquid wall surging in as tall as the tops of the soaring coconut palms. The fishing craft along the shore rolled end over end, tossed as easily as playthings in a bathtub.

Mesmerized, Desingu, whose name means fisherman, actually moved in closer.

“Then I was trapped,” he recalled in his native Tamil, through a translator. “The water was over my head.”

His wife, who came looking for him, also was caught in the flood. So was her aunt.

Desingu and other villagers didn’t even know a word to call this calamity. Only later would he hear of “tsunami.”

In India the roiling water took an estimated 18,000 lives — more than nine times the number lost in Hurricane Katrina. About three-quarters of the casualties were women and children. Although many people are more aware of the disaster’s astronomical deathtoll in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the statistics here in India are staggering: some 157,000 homes destroyed; 640,000 displaced.

Along all the southern Asian coastlines, more than 220,000 souls were swept to their deaths, according to a U.N. tally. Some 1.8 million were left homeless or became refugees.

As for Desingu, the tsunami first brought stunning loss and then ongoing struggle. But a glimmer of opportunity also materialized. For this poor but enterprising fisherman was already running a nonprofit that hired schoolteachers and organized health clinics and after-school programs. In the wake of the tsunami, money and aid began pouring in for Desingu’s nonprofit and his village. Suddenly, this 10th-generation fisherman had the chance to become the catalyst for permanent change in southeast India’s deprived and hard-pressed fishing villages.

“Now, all of a sudden, I can do more than I had planned to do,” said Desingu, the founder and director of Society for Education and Action (SEA).

And he would join forces to battle inadequate schools, poor health care, gender discrimination and government bureaucracy with people he knew little about — people called Jews.

In the days after the tsunami hit, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a relatively small, New York City-based nonprofit, began to work with Desingu and other regional leaders who run nongovernmental organizations or NGOs as they are commonly called. The upward shift in possibilities for AJWS paralleled that of the hard-working fisherman. Before the tsunami, the Jewish aid group had an annual budget of $11.2 million for projects spanning the developing world — a pinprick compared to other groups that do similar work — and small even when compared to other Jewish groups that focus on helping Jews and Israel. But relief appeals for the tsunami brought in $11 million, doubling the nonprofit’s funds.

Other aid groups have had similar experiences as a second flood — of charitable assistance — poured into India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. Private U.S. sources have given $1.775 billion to a loose coalition of 62 nonprofits (which includes AJWS and the American Joint Distribution Committee, another Jewish nonprofit that handled an influx of $18.5 million in tsunami-related donations).

Like Desingu, the American Jewish World Service saw an opening to effect change well beyond emergency relief or short-term recovery. The AJWS wanted to take on the pre-tsunami landscape of poverty and deprivation. Just as surely as the tsunami altered so much for the worse, the AJWS, working with local leaders like Desingu, wanted to make permanent changes for the good. Although it granted immediate aid where most needed, the organization also created a long-term development plan to spread out its windfall resources over five years.

“A lot of donors come and go after an emergency,” said Kate Kroeger, senior program officer for AJWS. “The real work kicks in three to four years after a disaster, when a community is stabilized. If donors pull out before that, they’ll miss out on three-quarters of the benefit.”

The American Jewish World Service already was working in India when the tsunami hit. But the storm thrust both AJWS and Desingu suddenly — and willingly — onto a larger stage, where their efforts can accomplish vastly more.

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site:
” target=”_blank”>http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: ” target=”_blank”>http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: ” target=”_blank”>http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site:

This Time They’re Ready for the Wave


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A Developing Reputation

Special Report – A Jewish Appeal to Remember and Rebuild

Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster

Some 50 South Indian villagers are spread out along the sandy beach. Women clad in brightly colored saris converse in groups, while men repair fishing nets. Teenage boys playfully tackle each other.

Then, the residents of Vellakoil get some news from fellow clansmen: Dangerous weather is on the way.

A year ago, when the tsunami hit, 19 died in this village of less than 500; 14 were children. And everyone’s house and belongings were washed away.

This time, they are ready.

As the storm descends, men, women and children fan out, each with a task. Some run into the Sea of Bengal to save those stranded in the water. They use rafts and life preservers made of readily available local materials, such as empty plastic water bottles and bamboo branches. Using makeshift stretchers — blankets stretched across tied bamboo — others carry the injured to a first-aid station.

Welcome to an emergency preparedness exercise organized by an Indian nonprofit, with support from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).

The effort was launched about a decade ago in another part of India, after a devastating earthquake, through Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), which stands for “self-learning through empowerment.”

Funds contributed after last December’s devastating tsunami are helping to pay for training and travel to make the program work. The idea is for villagers to help teach people from other villages, a concept central to the ideology of nonprofits funded by AJWS.

Vellakoil residents are serious about the drill. Beforehand, they proudly announce their duties — monitoring weather systems, performing first aid, documenting damage — to a group of visitors.

Of course, it’s hard to prepare for a tsunami that strikes on a clear day and sweeps inland across 4 kilometers of land, as happened here a year ago. But the planning already has paid dividends. Even though the region and the village suffered severe flooding during recent rains, residents successfully removed themselves and their belongings out of harm’s way.

This exercise begins and ends with villagers lined up along the beach, their arms outstretched as they pledge loyalty to their village and to each other.


In disaster drill, Vellakoil residents use supplies at hand — water bottles and bamboo — to fashion a rescue raft. Photo by Howard Blume

When they first performed the exercise about a month ago, at least one resident broke down in tears as memories resurfaced. Just two weeks before, a man who had lost two sons in the killer wave hanged himself. On this day, one woman recalls trying futilely to save two grandchildren.

For some, however, the emotions are beginning to subside. Several teenage boys wear excited smiles as they carry the “wounded” to safety.

Even psychological benefits are no small thing.

“Now we have confidence that we can escape,” says Kuppamanikkam, the woman who lost two grandchildren. “Now we no longer have to fear.”

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Women’s Lib Rises in Wake of Disaster


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Special Report – A Jewish Appeal to Remember and Rebuild

This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

The two young, sari-clad women, one in blue and one in orange, stand in the thatched-roof meeting hall, take hold of the microphone and join their voices.

“We don’t need any fancy materials,” they croon by heart. “What we need is just some food to live. We don’t ask for a refrigerator, a TV or a car. We just need some small capital to start a business.”

The audience of women in the village of Alamarai Kuppam applaud with enthusiasm. The few men, seated or hovering around the edges, are more circumspect, but they, too, nod approvingly.

Call it women’s lib, post-tsunami-India style.

The outpouring of financial support that followed the 2004 tsunami has accelerated efforts to improve the lives of rural women — an initiative that goes well beyond helping families recover from the tsunami.

“This disaster has given us a space to create gender equality,” says Attapan, the director of Rural Organization for Society Education (ROSE). ROSE is among the Indian nonprofits supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which focuses on international development based on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

Before, says Attapan, many fishing villages functioned almost as closed societies, distrustful of outsiders, with women locked into traditional, subservient roles. It’s still a country of arranged marriages, and, in places, instances of girl infanticide and widow burning.

But in this region, when the tidal wave took everything, these villagers had to look outside for help. The women, it turned out, were eager for expanded roles. And many men quickly realized that not only could they benefit from the outsiders, who brought resources and new ideas, but also from the resourcefulness of their own spouses, daughters and mothers.

Attapan’s organization has worked with women from fishing villages to help them develop business skills, such as tailoring and growing and selling herbs.

The two singing women are performing the homemade anthem of an informal women’s “congress” from 14 villages that has gathered in Alamarai Kuppam under the auspices of the Ghandian Unit for Integrated Development (GUIDE). GUIDE is trying to make women politically powerful and to break down traditional Hindu class divisions.

The caste system, although officially abolished in 1949, remains a potent and denigrating social force. The mixture of castes among the women gathered in Alamarai Kuppam is striking: It includes Dalit participants, the group once known as untouchables; they still suffer pervasive discrimination.

At the meeting, women rise group by group to proclaim their successes.

“We stopped the men from making alcohol in our village,” one women says.

Another exclaims: “We made demands for tsunami relief and got it.”

“We got schools to reduce their fees,” a third says.

This activism is true and courageous feminism, says R. Vasantha, development consultant for GUIDE. “In traditional society, if a woman speaks out about a problem, especially a problem with an abusive husband, she is an immoral woman. These women will now go to a police station and file a case.”

A delegation of women from four villages recently demanded that a man reserve some property and inheritance for a second wife he had taken, as well as for the woman’s baby. And in Alamarai Kuppam, women and GUIDE workers went to the police to halt an arranged marriage between an unwilling 13-year-old and an older man who wanted a second wife.

The 13-year-old’s parents had made the deal for money. Villagers later raised money to help the family.

And, when it comes to the business theme of the homemade anthem, these women aren’t waiting for opportunity to come looking for them. They’ve opened fish stalls in nearby towns to sell the village catch. And they’re going to start an ice factory to keep their fish fresh and to sell ice to others.

Working with women, particularly educating them, is probably the “best single investment” that can be made in international development, said Michael Cohen, director of the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in international affairs in New York. “It helps on the income side and reduces the family size.”

Both elements, he added, are key to reducing rural poverty.

 

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

A Developing Reputation


RELATED STORIES

This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

Special Report

A Developing Reputation – Messinger channels Jewish help to non-Jewish world

 

The two young, sari-clad women, one in blue and one in orange, stand in the thatched-roof meeting hall, take hold of the microphone and join their voices.

“We don’t need any fancy materials,” they croon by heart. “What we need is just some food to live. We don’t ask for a refrigerator, a TV or a car. We just need some small capital to start a business.”

The audience of women in the village of Alamarai Kuppam applaud with enthusiasm. The few men, seated or hovering around the edges, are more circumspect, but they, too, nod approvingly.

Call it women’s lib, post-tsunami-India style.

The outpouring of financial support that followed the 2004 tsunami has accelerated efforts to improve the lives of rural women — an initiative that goes well beyond helping families recover from the tsunami.

“This disaster has given us a space to create gender equality,” says Attapan, the director of Rural Organization for Society Education (ROSE). ROSE is among the Indian nonprofits supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which focuses on international development based on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

Before, says Attapan, many fishing villages functioned almost as closed societies, distrustful of outsiders, with women locked into traditional, subservient roles. It’s still a country of arranged marriages, and, in places, instances of girl infanticide and widow burning.

But in this region, when the tidal wave took everything, these villagers had to look outside for help. The women, it turned out, were eager for expanded roles. And many men quickly realized that not only could they benefit from the outsiders, who brought resources and new ideas, but also from the resourcefulness of their own spouses, daughters and mothers.

Attapan’s organization has worked with women from fishing villages to help them develop business skills, such as tailoring and growing and selling herbs.

The two singing women are performing the homemade anthem of an informal women’s “congress” from 14 villages that has gathered in Alamarai Kuppam under the auspices of the Ghandian Unit for Integrated Development (GUIDE). GUIDE is trying to make women politically powerful and to break down traditional Hindu class divisions.

The caste system, although officially abolished in 1949, remains a potent and denigrating social force. The mixture of castes among the women gathered in Alamarai Kuppam is striking: It includes Dalit participants, the group once known as untouchables; they still suffer pervasive discrimination.

At the meeting, women rise group by group to proclaim their successes.

“We stopped the men from making alcohol in our village,” one women says.

Another exclaims: “We made demands for tsunami relief and got it.”

“We got schools to reduce their fees,” a third says.

This activism is true and courageous feminism, says R. Vasantha, development consultant for GUIDE. “In traditional society, if a woman speaks out about a problem, especially a problem with an abusive husband, she is an immoral woman. These women will now go to a police station and file a case.”

A delegation of women from four villages recently demanded that a man reserve some property and inheritance for a second wife he had taken, as well as for the woman’s baby. And in Alamarai Kuppam, women and GUIDE workers went to the police to halt an arranged marriage between an unwilling 13-year-old and an older man who wanted a second wife.

The 13-year-old’s parents had made the deal for money. Villagers later raised money to help the family.

And, when it comes to the business theme of the homemade anthem, these women aren’t waiting for opportunity to come looking for them. They’ve opened fish stalls in nearby towns to sell the village catch. And they’re going to start an ice factory to keep their fish fresh and to sell ice to others.

Working with women, particularly educating them, is probably the “best single investment” that can be made in international development, said Michael Cohen, director of the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in international affairs in New York. “It helps on the income side and reduces the family size.”

Both elements, he added, are key to reducing rural poverty.

 

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

Groups, Shuls Fundraise for Tsunami Aid


 

Cantor Alison Wissot of Temple Judea felt the pull of the Asian tsunami at a Friday morning meeting of the women’s group at her Tarzana Reform shul.

“There was an outpouring of, ‘This is so awful,’ ‘How do we deal with this event?’ ‘How do we not feel helpless?’ ‘How do we just do something?'” Wissot said.

“At first, this was something that people have in their nightmares,” she continued. “Over the last week, this has become something that has been made real to people.”

“This huge act of God came and wiped out a huge number of people,” Wissot said. “Of course, people feel helpless.”

By watching lifeless, water-logged bodies pile up half a planet away for more than two weeks now, the tugs of Judaism’s responsibility to humanity are prompting Jewish community donations and fund-raising efforts.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said this week that its Southeast Asia Relief Fund has brought in $200,000 in donations. That will be part of about $10 million raised by Jewish federations nationwide, plus the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, United Jewish Communities and 35 other groups forming the new Jewish Coalition for Asia Tsunami Relief.

The Jewish response has been strong at the community level, and rather than doing their own fundraising, synagogues are urging congregants to donate to national relief funds.

“Because there’s so many opportunities, we are really promoting people to go to the Jewish organizations and give to the Jewish organizations that are already giving, rather than set up our account here,” said Howard Lesner, executive director at Westwood’s Conservative Sinai Temple, where Rabbi David Wolpe discussed the tsunami in his New Year’s weekend sermon.

While encouraging donations to national funds, Lesner said that young donors at Sinai’s Akiba Academy want to give, too.

“Some of the school kids are raising … funds that’ll be directed toward some tsunami relief,” he said.

An Australian Jewish couple was confirmed dead this week in Thailand. So far, local Jewish connections to the tsunami deaths are minimal, although in Sherman Oaks, the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center said that a former Israeli exchange student who worked at its summer camp several years ago was killed in Thailand.

A poll of 1,800 people conducted by the Jewish Web site, www.aish.com, found that about 60 percent of respondents said they believed that God caused the tsunami, with half those surveyed also saying the tsunami increased their belief in God. In addition, 80 percent of those polled said the tsunami prompted them to do good deeds.

Rabbi John Rosove of the Reform Temple Israel of Hollywood said his shul has donated $5,000 from his synagogue’s social action fund.

During its Jan. 7 Shabbat service, Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills hosted about 10 members of a nearby Indonesian Christian church, plus the deputy consul general from Indonesia’s L.A. consulate. Although Indonesia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, the diplomat was warmly welcomed, and the temple women’s group announced a $500 donation.

“If there is any Jewish society that would like to contribute, you can always send donations to Indonesia,” Deputy Consul General Handriyo Kusoma Priyo said. “Regardless of the race, at this time of mourning people are coming [to see that] this is one brotherhood.”

“I want to give money, and I want to help; I just go basically from my heart,” said Kol Tikvah member Brenda Gillis, a mother of two who said she was deeply moved by seeing the tsunami dead. “Those images definitely do sway me as a mother. I gave blood last week.”

Roz Rothstein of the Israel advocacy group, StandWithUs, said that friends she has spoken with want to make the right kind of tsunami donation.

“People were worried about giving to reputable organizations and preferred to trust their money to Jewish groups with reputations for two reasons,” Rothstein said. “They wanted the money to come through Jewish organizations as a show of love from the Jewish community, and they are worried about stories they heard following 9/11, when groups that received money didn’t release the funds in a timely way.”

During the Indonesians’ visit, ignored were the Kol Tikvah’s sanctuary’s fundraising cans for the Sudan’s Darfur genocide victims. Reform Rabbi Steve Jacobs said the tsunami “did blow Darfur off the map,” but that Jews can and should maintain simultaneous compassion for two distant, seemingly non-Jewish issues in Asia and Africa.

“It’s not either/or,” Jacobs said. “It’s both.”

On Jan. 19, Israeli folk dance instructor David Dassa and Wilshire Boulevard Temple will host a midweek, combination tsunami/Sudan fundraising dance class at the temple’s West L.A. campus on Olympic Boulevard.

The Workmen’s Circle will host a Jan. 16 fundraising concert for the American Jewish World Service’s tsunami efforts, featuring an anti-Bush comedy troupe.

National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, under the direction of the Consulate of Sri Lanka, will ship donations of clothing, sheets, blankets, tents and first aid kits to tsunami relief programs over the next few weeks via their seven thrift store locations.

Temple Judea’s Wissot said her synagogue has been reminding people “that the Sudan situation is still going on” and to not “leave behind whatever it is we were dealing with a month ago.”

Wissot knows Asia’s tsunami and Darfur’s genocide touch different parts of the Jewish soul.

“One is an act of God, one is an act of people; it’s just a different sense of helplessness,” Wissot said.

She added that any clergy comparisons of the tsunami to the Bible’s flood story should reiterate that event’s ending — about redemption and God’s promise never again to destroy the Earth.

“The world hasn’t been destroyed, and there are people to rebuild,” she said. “The world isn’t destroyed by this. Be partners with God in rebuilding, so the promise remains. There are some tragedies that just need time.”

 

50 Nifty Jewish Groups


Do the words “innovative” and “Jewish groups” seem like oxymorons? Not to the publishers of “Slingshot,” a new guidebook to the “50 most innovative Jewish groups in North America,” published by a division of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.

“Slingshot,” which is expected to be published annually, aims to showcase meaningful but often cash-strapped programs to philanthropists who can help fund them, with the goal of revitalizing North American Jewry.

After assembling recommendations from Jewish philanthropists, 25 foundation professionals who fund Jewish programs chose the final 50 groups based on their performance in innovation, impact, leadership and efficiency.

Slingshot’s supporters say backing the 50 groups is smart because these groups are already remaking the Jewish community.

“This is the low-risk, high-reward investment,” Jeffrey Solomon, the president of the Bronfman Philanthropies, said at a recent launch party in a crowded lounge on New York’s Lower East Side.

The organization that collected the most recommendations among the “innovative 50” is the American Jewish World Service. The group, which focuses on long-term economic projects in the developing world, has been at the forefront of aiding victims of the December 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.

According to the “Slingshot” preface, the challenges that American Jews face in 2005 stem from assimilation. Because Jews are not externally compelled to live Jewish lives, they must inspire each other internally to feel connected to the Jewish community.

Many of the guidebook’s picks are programs that blend Judaism with American culture and society, allowing participants to nurture each side of their American Jewish identities.

Some of the L.A.-based organizations that made it to the list include MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger; IKAR, a Jewish spiritual community that engages in the pursuit of social justice; and The Progressive Jewish Alliance, an organization dedicated to working for social and economic justice.

For a complete list, visit

Tsunami Leaves Us Awash in God Talk


Last December, as the world tried to grapple with the devastating scope of the tsunami that hit South Asia — at last count, the death toll stood at nearly 300,000 — the tragedy became fodder for fatuous religious discussions, focusing on an ancient question: How can a just, good, all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil to happen and innocents to suffer?

“Very hard to square with an involved deity,” John Derbyshire wrote on National Review’s Web log, The Corner. “I can’t do it myself, yet I am constitutionally unable to not believe in that deity. I think I’ll go lie down for a while.”

Perhaps due to a different constitution, I can’t really relate to his dilemma. My own agnostic view is that if there is a deity, he, she or it probably isn’t a hands-on manager of the world’s day-to-day operations; this spares me the need to grapple with Derbyshire’s paradox. Which is not to say that the post-tsunami God debate hasn’t been enlightening.

For one thing, it should — but won’t — lay to rest the notion that the mainstream media treat faith and its adherents with scorn, and that talk of God is somehow marginalized in our secular public square. In fact, in the aftermath of the tsunami, religion held a distinctly privileged place in America’s public discourse. Numerous papers around the country ran stories on post-disaster soul searching about evil, suffering and the meaning of life that usually gave only passing mention to nonreligious philosophies.

On the op-ed pages and on the airwaves, there were plenty of voices representing various faiths, with little if any input from humanists, agnostics or other secularists. On CNN, Larry King convened a panel composed of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr., left-wing Rabbi Michael Lerner, best-selling guru Deepak Chopra, a Catholic priest, an adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a Buddhist monk. On MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” a similarly ecumenical gathering generously included a token atheist who could barely get a word in.

What did all this faith-based commentary offer to — as Milton put it — “justify the ways of God to man?” Most of it amounted to well-worn banalities: God’s ways are mysterious and cannot be fathomed by the human mind; we know God loves us, because he told us so in the Bible. There were a few half-veiled suggestions that the tsunamis were a punishment from God.

Evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, made a more startling (and more original) claim on the Fox News show, “The Heartland”: “Maybe in the Muslim world … people would see that Americans are not, perhaps, what the wicked propagandists would say, but they were good people and a caring people, and we’re going to help them. So God, you know, He has a greater purpose.”

God committed mass slaughter just to give America an opportunity to improve its image abroad?

Some Jewish writers offered more thoughtful answers to the question of God and evil. Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, writing in The Jerusalem Post, noted that in the Jewish tradition, it is entirely acceptable and even righteous for human beings to challenge and argue against God’s injustice, as Abraham, Moses and Job did in the Bible. (Boteach, the sometimes-smarmy author of “Kosher Sex” and spiritual adviser to celebrities, emerged as one of the sanest and most dignified figures in this particular debate.)

I wanted to cheer when, on “Scarborough Country,” he ripped into a panelist who had talked of God’s wrath against sinners. “God,” the rabbi said, “is not a terrorist.”

But it’s not entirely clear what such an approach means in practical terms, in a world where people don’t routinely converse with the Supreme Being — unless you count Heather McDonald’s satiric suggestion in Slate that people should stop donating to religious institutions and attending services in order to show their displeasure to the man upstairs.

In any case, it really shouldn’t take a mass catastrophe to raise all these hard questions about God’s power and mercy. Even leaving aside human-perpetrated evils that can be said to reflect free will, untold numbers of innocents around the world, including children, die from disease and accidents every year.

When God is thanked for answering a prayer with a miraculous deliverance, it raises the inevitable skeptical question: What about all those who likewise prayed but perished nonetheless? Is the idea of a deity cherry-picking those who will survive a deadly disaster really comforting?

After Sept. 11, some credited God with ensuring that there were far fewer people than usual both in the hijacked planes and in the targeted buildings. You’d think that God could have simply tipped off the FBI.

Yet in a supposedly secularist culture where conservatives gripe that you’re not allowed to talk about God anymore, mainstream public discourse rarely questions boilerplate rhetoric about God’s higher purpose and the mystery of His ways.

When an American soldier serving in Iraq was killed in a helicopter crash while flying home for his mother’s funeral after her sudden death from an aneurysm, newspaper accounts reverentially repeated a minister’s assertion at the double service that God surely had a plan for mother and son.

Of course, when you think of the things people want to hear at a time of great tragedy, “we live in a cold and indifferent universe, and then it kills us” isn’t very high on list. A great tragedy like last December’s tsunami might not be a good time for any kind of philosophizing, religious or secular — particularly philosophizing by safe and well-fed people about a disaster that doesn’t touch their own lives. All we can do, as human beings, is help victims and try to prevent future catastrophes.

In his Jerusalem Post opinion piece, Boteach wrote, “The human imperative is not to reckon with God’s secrets but to promote those values which He conveyed as being supreme, leading with the defense of human life.” That’s one message both the religious and the secularists should be able to embrace.

Maybe, when we work to make the world better, it’s the spirit of God working through us; and maybe it’s the spirit of humanity. In the end, does it make a difference?

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe.

Memo to Oscar: Just Say ‘No’ to Swag


 

The contrast was just too much. On one channel, I watched as tens of thousands of people struggled to survive the devastating impact of the tsunami that left more than 250,000 dead and countless others injured and homeless, and on another channel, presenters at last month’s Golden Globe Awards leaving the ceremonies with their “travel-themed” gift baskets worth $37,890 each.

The Golden Globes took place exactly three weeks after the tsunami struck Southeast Asia, creating the largest natural disaster in our lifetime. The gifts, which were contained in a custom wicker ottoman, included:

• An Australian wine adventure package with first-class Qantas airfare and accommodations at Rosemount Estate, where guests will create their own wine (value $16,000).

• A sitting with portrait photographer Judy Host ($5,000).

• Ehrlooms diamond pendant ($2,700).

• Sports Club L.A. six-month bicoastal membership ($2,250)

• Brite Smile teeth whitening ($1,100).

• Missoni shawl ($900).

• Chopard watch ($865)

• Janet Lee luxury pet carrier ($400).

This tradition continued at this year’s Grammys, where each presenter and performer received a $35,000 basket.

Gift baskets have become a cottage industry. They are a part of every major Hollywood event. I have never understood this concept. These people are already blessed with so much. They are pampered and catered to at every turn. Why do they need these extravagant presents? Why do people who need it the least receive the most?

The companies that donate the goodies for the baskets do so because they see it as a great advertisement and endorsement for their products.

Where will it stop?

In 2002, the Academy Awards baskets were worth $20,000 — each. In 2004, they were estimated at $100,000 each and contained more than 50 items, including a seven-day cruise to the Mediterranean or Caribbean and a 43-inch, high-definition Samsung TV, coupled with one year of Voom HD satellite service. The baskets were given to approximately 100 presenters, performers and other select individuals.

The perks actually begin as soon as the Oscar nominations are announced. For example, Estee Lauder gave each of this year’s 20 nominees in the acting categories a Michael Kors leather bag filled with such goodies as: Manolo Blahnik sandals, a personalized Loro Piana cashmere blanket, Baccarat crystal and La Grande Dame Veuve Clicquot champagne. They were also invited to a private spa in the penthouse of the Regent Beverly Wilshire (value $15,000).

Victoria’s Secret gifted the five best-actress nominees with a pair of black lace panties that have a little something extra — a removable 7.2-carat diamond and pink sapphire brooch. The lingerie comes in a pink leather clutch, with another sapphire-and-diamond piece, a detachable four-leaf clover ($15,000).

The full contents of this year’s Academy Awards basket is being kept under wraps until this Sunday’s show. However, a few gifts have been revealed: a red leather case filled with Shu Uemura cosmetics, including mink eyelashes; and Kay Unger cashmere pajamas. It’s amazing to realize that just one basket could probably pay for a child’s four-year college education.

I would love to see one of the award shows step forward and set a precedent by discontinuing the gift basket extravaganza and instead, have the various companies honor the presenters by making monetary donations to their favorite charitable causes.

Because of the magnitude of the tsunami disaster, it would have been most appropriate to not distribute any baskets at the Golden Globes, Grammys or Oscars this year. However, because these groups decided to proceed, it would have great meaning if each recipient would make a matching monetary donation equivalent to the value of their basket to tsunami relief or another charity of their choice.

Another option would be for them to sign the basket, and then put it up for online auction, with the proceeds going to tsunami relief or another favorite charity. It would be wonderful to see these ideas become an ongoing tradition at all award shows, whenever gift baskets are distributed. (Kudos to the presenters at the Critics’ Choice Awards for auctioning their baskets to aid tsunami charities.)

Celebrities have tremendous influence in our culture. Turning gift baskets into charitable contributions is an opportunity to be a role model and teach everyone, especially our children, about gratitude and the importance of helping others.

One organization is already a shining example of these lessons: Clothes Off Our Back. which was conceived by a group of actors, including “Malcolm in the Middle” star Jane Kaczmarek; her husband, Bradley Whitford of “The West Wing”; and his co-star, Janel Moloney. The project encourages celebrities to donate the gowns, tuxedos and accessories that they wear at award shows to an online auction (www.clothesoffourback.org). They have given $350,000 to various children’s charities in the past three years.

They raised $130,000 following the Golden Globes in support of the UNICEF Tsunami Fund. The highest bid was $31,000 for “Desperate Housewives” star Teri Hatcher’s gown. Their Grammy auction, which is taking place online until March 1, includes dresses donated by such celebrities as Beyonce.

They will continue their fundraising efforts with the Oscars. Kaczmarek described the group’s purpose so eloquently: “The idea behind the auction is all about what you can do to give back.”

It is a sentiment all of us can take to heart, especially at this time. As Maurice Sendak once said, “There must be more to life than having everything.”

Gloria Baran develops social action and community service programs for children, including a variety of tzedakah projects for Camp Ramah.

 

Privatized El Al to Add Saturday Flight


 

When 50 Israelis who survived the devastating Dec. 26 tsunami were stranded in Sri Lanka, El Al made good on its commitment to organize and operate rescue missions.

“When there is a problem, Israelis will go out of their way to help other Israelis,” said Nira Dror, the Israeli airline’s vice president and general manager of North and Central American operations.

El Al’s humanitarian efforts are renowned — from 1950’s Operation Magic Carpet in Yemen to 1991’s Operation Solomon in Ethiopia. Since its founding in 1948, El Al has rescued more than 1 million Jews from dangerous and desperate situations.

But what made the Sri Lanka rescue unique was that it’s El Al’s first as a private carrier.

Following an initial public offering on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in June 2003, Israel’s government turned control of the airline over to Knafaim Arkia Holdings on Dec. 23, 2004. El Al had kicked off an effort to shed its image as a state-sponsored carrier and define its future business plans, which locally includes the addition of a Saturday flight and lower fares, when it was called on once again to save Jews abroad. With media attention focused so heavily on the disaster, news of El Al’s sea change was buried.

After the Dec. 28 rescue, El Al sent a second flight to Sri Lanka and a third to Muslim-dominated Indonesia, carrying more than 90 tons of emergency equipment — including clothing, food and medical supplies. Although Indonesia refused Israel’s help, Dror said that the six-figure operation was worth the expense, adding that it would go a long way toward improving relations in the area.

“When there is trouble, we are there,” she said.

In defining El Al’s new role, newly appointed CEO Israel Borovich said he would like to see the airline extend its reach, becoming a global carrier that caters to international passengers while continuing to serve its specialty niche markets. (Borovich is also president and CEO of Knafaim Arkia Holdings and domestic flier Arkia Israeli Airlines, as well as professor emeritus of computers and information systems at Tel Aviv University.)

On the heels of El Al’s operation in Southeast Asia, Borovich talked about the possibility of establishing routes in Asia, a destination popular with Israeli tourists, during a Feb. 4 news conference in New York.

“It’s easy to see why Israel was always a gateway into Asia,” Borovich told the New York Sun, alluding to the nation’s role in the silk and spice trade in ancient times. “And we believe we can again make Israel a gate into Asia and the Far East.”

In addition to expanding its service area, the privatized El Al is also taking steps to improve its established routes. Recent efforts include lowering ticket prices, adding flights and making cabin improvements.

“While most airlines are reducing services, El Al is in a position now more than ever to improve and grow,” he said.

With a 40 percent growth in tourism to Israel during 2004, El Al is ambitiously trying to compete with carriers like Continental, American, Delta, United, Air Canada, British Airways and Lufthansa for a greater market share.

“We’ve heard that El Al is not the cheapest from Los Angeles, but we’re aiming to become the best value for the money,” Dror said.

The airline’s strongest selling point is that it’s the only carrier offering direct flights to Israel from Los Angeles — there is a stop in Toronto, although no change of plane is required. But El Al’s greatest perceived handicap in the 24-hour world of international travel is that it doesn’t fly on Shabbat or major Jewish holidays, a practice some privatization supporters hoped would fall by the wayside.

Borovich, the grandson of a rabbi, said that the issue of flying on Shabbat and Jewish holidays was a sensitive one, and that there were currently no plans to change El Al’s policy.

Instead, El Al hopes to entice passengers with fare reductions and additional flight options in the months ahead.

Locally, El Al will expand its weekly direct service from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv to include a sixth flight on Saturday nights beginning this spring. And nonstop weekly flights from JFK in New York are expected to grow from 13 to 21 by July.

El Al’s effort to improve comfort on flights with better seats is currently confined to business class, which is also the target of its recent fare promotion.

Business-class travelers departing from LAX are being offered a roundtrip fare of $2,999, and passengers 60 years or older can also take advantage of a special business-class fare of $2,549 per person, with spouses 55 and older able to participate when traveling together. Also, any two first-class passengers traveling together can each purchase a ticket for $4,898. The promotions end March 31.

A winter coach fare of $799 from Los Angeles ended on Feb. 17 with no spring fares yet announced, and El Al is taking advantage of its stop in the Great White North and offering a bargain coach fare of $288 to Toronto.

As El Al finds its footing as a private carrier in an industry that has cut staples such as meals and pillows, the successful transfer raises hope for the privatization of other Israeli government-run corporations, like phone monopoly Bezeq, Israel Discount Bank and Bank Leumi.

“The final goal is for no companies to remain in government hands,” Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit said.

For more information, visit www.elal.com or call (800) 223-6700.

 

Report From Phuket Faith and Tsunami: A Rescue Mission


 

Ten minutes after the tsunami hit, my phone started ringing. It’s been ringing ever since, 24 hours a day — husbands looking for wives, mothers looking for daughters, friends looking for their traveling companions.

As one of the Chabad emissaries living in Southeast Asia, I was dispatched that very night on Dec. 26 to the hardest hit areas. My mission: to aid with the search and rescue efforts, particularly in regard to the thousands of missing Israelis and other Jewish travelers.

Yakov Dvir, the Israeli consul in Thailand, conveyed an urgent request in the name of Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, director of Chabad-Lubavitch activities in Thailand, that Chabad step in to help. All of us — the six permanent Chabad rabbis and our families, and the 12 rabbinical students now living and working in Thailand — immediately moved into 24-hour mode, fielding calls, compiling lists and offering aid and comfort to the survivors.

When I arrived on the island of Phuket, a Thai resort destination, bloated bodies still lined the streets. We had hundreds of names on our lists, with new ones being added every hour.

For three days now I have been making my rounds of the morgues, hospitals and makeshift shelters, trying to match faces and fates to the names in my lists. For the dazed survivors, we arrange food, clothing, medical care and transportation back home.

For the dead, we have the unfortunate task of helping the ZAKA (Disaster Victims Identification) volunteers who’ve flown in from Israel make the identification, arrange for a proper Jewish burial and get the news to loved ones keeping vigil by the phone. But in a place where unfortunately so many will be thrown together in mass graves, there is some sense of relief and closure knowing that the victim has been found and will receive a Jewish burial.

From the moment a Jewish body is identified, it is not left alone for a minute. This is the last respect and love we can give to our brothers and sisters.

On Monday we found Mattan. The 11-month-old boy was torn from his mother’s arms as they played on the beach. Both she and her husband survived the tsunami, but Mattan was nowhere to be seen. Steve and Sylvia Nesima found their son in the makeshift morgue, along with the hundreds of other children who had no chance against the monstrous waves. Mattan was flown to Bangkok, where Chabad emissaries took turns sitting with him around the clock until they put his small body on the El Al plane to Israel for burial.

Our three Chabad centers in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui, have been transformed into crisis centers for counseling, clothing, communication, food, money, transportation and shelter. We have opened our phone lines for free calls to assuage the fear of parents who will not rest until they hear their son’s or daughter’s voice on the other end. Our free e-mail service has enabled hundreds to contact worried loved ones and assure them of their safety.

The survivors come to us shaken, hungry and overwhelmed. They need to go home and be with their families. Until that is possible, it is our responsibility to provide them with that love, comfort and safety while they are still here. For some that means a warm meal. Others need money and arrangements for necessary travel documents, some a hug or shoulder to cry on and others a place to sleep.

The Thai government has been incredibly helpful and organized. Now that people have been able to travel here to help, we have been joined by dozens of volunteers who’ve flown in from Israel. We’re all working together, around the clock.

No one has yet digested the magnitude of what happened. Right now, there’s too much to do to even pause for a moment to contemplate it. The unity among all the workers is incredible.

I was moved when I saw the news reporters join us to help locate and identify the injured and dead. They were no longer looking at the situation through the camera as they worked alongside the rabbis, government officials and volunteers.

On a larger scale, this disaster has brought people of every race, creed and religion together. There are no divisions in suffering. There are no barriers.

Rich, poor, young, old, male, female were all the same in the eyes of the waves, and now, once again, are all the same when it comes to offering aid, support and love.

What keeps us going are the miracles that are sprinkled throughout the horror. Today, a 20-day-old baby was found alive, floating upon a mattress in the water. A 1-year-old who was torn from his mother’s arms was miraculously recovered by his nanny, seconds before he would have been submerged in water.

A Jewish family of six were scheduled to fly to Ko Phi Phi, the hardest hit of the islands. We feared the worst for them, until we learned that they had missed their flight and were sitting on the runway, bemoaning their ruined vacation when the news broke.

Today, when I visited the hospital, an Israeli woman called me over and started crying when she told me her story. She had been traveling by boat with another 41 Israelis. They had just docked at Ko Phi Phi when the waves began to hit.

The group ran as fast as they could, but could not outrun the rushing water. They were immediately swept up in its path along with debris, trees and cars. This woman was sure her life was over and without time to think, suddenly found herself screaming to others to join her in saying the “Shema” out loud.

With the last ounce of strength in her body, she cried out the words of the most foundational prayer of the Jewish people, our acknowledgment of the Creator of the World and His oneness. And as she finished the verse, she suddenly felt a log come up from under her feet, keeping her head above water so that she could breathe.

Then, as she floated along, she looked upward and saw a rope come down from the sky. The rope had been thrown from her boat, where other survivors had gathered. They pulled her aboard and managed to save 40 of the group. Unfortunately, there are two still unaccounted for.

It is these miracles that give me hope and remind me of my purpose and my mission. There are no words to describe the horror that has happened and certainly no understandable explanations or reasons for its occurrence. But I believe that though we can’t make sense of it, this, like everything we experience, is part of a larger picture that we currently don’t see.

More importantly, we must use this opportunity to focus on our ability to overcome, to help others and to rebuild. Every living, breathing person who survived this not only has to live his or her life, but must live for those who were not able to survive.

And I keep trying to tell myself, we must remember that just as instantaneously as utter destruction struck, so, too, in a split second, we can be redeemed, we can start anew, we can have complete peace, love and goodness.

I’ve seen more pain and suffering in the last few days than I’ve seen in all my 32 years. But I’ve also been privileged to witness compassion and faith of a magnitude that I never imagined existed. I have watched as people from different cultures, faiths, countries and mentalities join together to help another.

For the Godly soul, hidden deep within, often shines forth precisely when externally there is nothing to depend on. When physicality is destroyed, the only thing left is spirituality, and that is now what is apparent throughout this annihilated area.

So, for now, I continue to help rescue and identify the victims, working along with representatives from throughout the world here to do the same. The Israeli Embassy has asked all hotels in Thailand to request their Israeli guests to call either the Israeli Embassy or one of the Chabad houses so that we can ensure that the people who are safe and sound have called home and are not considered “missing.”

This Shabbat we will be hosting many tsunami survivors at our Shabbat tables here in Phuket and hundreds more at the Chabad houses in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui. We are still hoping to find more survivors, to provide the injured with all their needs and to make possible for those who were not so fortunate to be brought to their families for a proper burial.

Thanks to everyone’s unbelievable dedication and work, we have made much headway. From an initial list of 2,000 missing Israelis, only 17 remain unaccounted for.

May God bless us to continue to be successful in our work, and may this disaster be the last we know of pain and suffering and the beginning of the true ushering in of goodness and redemption.

Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm is a Chabad emmisary living in Southeast Asia. He can reached at rabbi@jewishthailand.com online at

Boom! Water Shot Through the Beach


 

I was on the island of Koh Lanta on Dec. 26. Koh Lanta is just east of Phuket and Ko Phi Phi Island and part of the province of Krabi, Thailand.

The island is made up of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. I had visited this small island earlier in the year, and was blown away both by the kindness of all the inhabitants, as well as its natural beauty.

On the morning of the 26th, I was in the pool at 7 a.m., doing yoga at 8 and breakfasting at 9. By 9:30 a.m. I was on my motorcycle and decided to stop and check e-mails.

I noticed a bunch of people — locals — starting to run to the beach. I figured someone got hit by a car (if you saw the way folks drove, you would know that’s not too irregular) until someone yelled something about a wave.

Now, I am thinking to myself, “What’s the big deal? I mean, haven’t they ever seen a bloody wave before?” and continued typing away.

But more folks kept running to the beach, so I finally got up to go look at some stupid wave, but all of a sudden, everyone started running toward me, and boom. water shot up, through the beach (about 50 yards), kind of like a water cannon into the street.

It honestly did not seem like that big a deal — although certainly a bizarre occurrence. And at that stage it wasn’t. (It was the first of three waves.)

I decided to get back on my bike and head to the other side of the island, which meant I had to go over a mountain. As I crested, I saw the other side of the Andaman Sea. A white line was slowly cutting its way diagonally across the entire ocean. It was mesmerizing.

Meanwhile, all the locals were heading up the mountain — a mile journey from the coast — as I was naively headed down. When I got to the bottom, a boatload of Swedish tourists were being dropped off, because of the peculiar tides and currents.

They were all somewhat put out by the inconvenience, and yet in the background, the natives were all hightailing it out of town, putting old people and their wheelchairs in little pickups and clearing out. Meanwhile, all the non-natives looked at the irregularly cloudy sky and shrugged their shoulders.

Still, I figured something was just too strange, so I decided to cut my ride short and head back to my side of the island. When I returned to where I had been less than an hour before, the restaurant next to where I was standing was destroyed. And most peculiarly, very few people were around.

As I rode down to where I was staying, each place along the beach was ripped apart. I stopped to see the man who rented me the motorcycle, and he was in tears.

I cautiously came to the entrance of my hotel, pushing through the saloon like doors to what was previously some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen, now looking as though a bomb had gone off.

The pool I had been swimming in had a 30-foot boat perched just beyond it and was full of rocks, mud and sand. The 10-by-20-foot yoga platform used at an 8 a.m. class on was shattered.

The place I had sat and ate my breakfast: half was in a hole, while the other half had the tables with food still on the plates, glasses half full of orange juice; it was obvious people had recently run for their lives. The entire hotel was in shambles — and empty.

I heard everyone was up the hill, so I immediately ran and bought 24 pints of water and all the sweets I could squeeze into my backpack from a nearby store that was about to close. I figured all the kids were going to go crazy sitting up there without food. By the time I made it to the top, I saw that everyone was there, scared, but surrounded by an incredibly hard-working staff, which had already begun hauling food up.

Down the hill in the kitchen area, the staff fearlessly walked in their sandals through broken glass and other debris, completely focused on helping their panicky guests. The two owners were also there working tirelessly, filling up small pickup trucks with cooking equipment to transport up this huge hill.

We worked for hours and hours. Many of the employees had gashes and bruises, and yet, they were so unbelievably hard working. I never heard a complaint. I never saw a moment of selfishness.

We had to constantly be looking at the horizon, because another tsunami was supposedly on its way — and bigger than the last one. So each time we would go down and quickly fill up supplies, we feared another wave could quite possibly come bombing back in and sweep us away. It is the strangest sensation, and it completely changes your relationship with the beautiful coastline — suddenly it became my nemesis.

Come nighttime, everyone had been fed and was sleeping on the mountain top. My job was to haul blankets endlessly to everyone up there. One segment of the hill was so steep that it required me to have around 30 pounds of blankets on one arm and pull myself by rope with the other. It was easy, because there was a full moon, and because I kept thinking how incredibly lucky I was to be able to be alive to even chip in, so the energy I had was limitless.

When this job was over, I was on watch again. At about 3 a.m., blanket distribution began anew, because the winds started up again, and all the guests were getting very cold with only one blanket. Windiness causes more anxiety, because it is a sign that things may be brewing again. Shortly after, I heard the “call to prayer” for the Muslims. It was 5 a.m.

With everyone asleep, I walked down the beach to see what are now familiar images on the news. The deaths here, comparatively, were minimal. The damage: tantamount.

People I had come to know were devastated, in shock. Their businesses, homes, livelihoods were shattered. This was the high season, too. And as to the workers from the hotel, I never did see or hear them show any signs of their personal needs, even though they, too, had nothing left at this point.

Amazingly, the owners had arranged to evacuate us off the island. We were trucked, then boated, then trucked, then ferried and then trucked to safety. I felt strange leaving. When you see all the non-natives packed up, relieved, driving away from all the inhabitants … well, you do the math.

So as you can tell, I totally lucked out. I was in Phuket the week before, and you are familiar with that catastrophe. Days before that, I had been on Ko Phi Phi — an island that was destroyed. And just hours before I was in the pool, where I would have not heard or seen people running (most were still asleep) and would have immediately been killed by either the sand and water or a huge boat running me over.

It’s strange. We all have friends or acquaintances who have died in tragic events. We continuously say things to ourselves like, “If he only waited five minutes….”

For me, it’s the opposite. The resonating feeling I have is not as euphoric, as one may expect. For some reason, I have a great deal of guilt. I am also terribly curious. I keep trying to figure out how I was so profoundly fortunate.

This spring, Paul Alan Smith plans to return to the island to distribute money to the people in need there.

 

Efforts Under Way to Raise Aid Funds


 

Local and national Jewish organizations have mobilized to help tsunami victims and invite the community to participate, as well.

DONATE DIRECTLY:

American Jewish World Service partners with 22 non-government and community-based organizations in the regions affected by the tsunami and is working with them to provide emergency relief, including food, water, shelter and medicine, as well as long-term recovery and development support. 45 W. 36th St., 10th floor, New York, NY, 10018. (800) 889-7146. www.ajws.org.

Chabad House in Thailand is the only Jewish service agency in the country dealing with the catastrophe. Its three houses in Thailand have been converted into crisis centers for survivors, offering food, shelter, money for clothes and counseling, as well as free international phone calls and Internet use for survivors to contact loved ones. Write checks to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200. www.chabadthailand.com.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will allocate funds it raises to partner organizations on the ground in South Asia. JDC: South Asia Tsunami Relief, Box 321, 847A Second Ave., New York, NY, 10017. www.jdc.org.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a special emergency fund for Southeast Asia disaster relief. All donations will be disbursed to humanitarian organizations working on the ground in the affected areas. Make checks payable to The Jewish Federation and write “Southeast Asia Relief Fund” on the memo line: 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 761-8200.

Magen David Adom. The Israeli Red Cross has been sending medics, medical supplies and experts on body identification to Sri Lanka and Thailand. It has set up a special fund for those who wish to contribute. www.magendavidadom.org.

ATTEND A BENEFIT:

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring: Sunday, Jan. 16, 3 p.m. Tsunami benefit concert featuring classical Indian music and dance. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. www.circlesocal.com.

Congregation Or Ami: Sunday, Jan. 30, 4-6 p.m. “Music of Or Ami” concert series presents pianist-composer Aaron Meyer, accompanied by Doug Cotler on guitar, flutist Toby Caplan-Stonefield and others. A portion of ticket sales will benefit tsunami victims. $12. 26115 Mureau Road, Calabasas. (818) 880-4880.

LEARN MORE:

Temple Kol Tikvah: Friday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m. Pastor Biworo Adinata of Gereja Bethel Indonesia of Los Angeles will address the congregation and community about how to help Indonesian tsunami victims. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

The following organizations are collecting donations for the American Jewish World Service:

Orthodox Union, www.ou.org/forms/tsunami3.htm.

Valley Beth Shalom, (818) 782-2281.

Pressman Academy, (310) 652-7353.

 

Jewish Groups Join Quake Relief Efforts


For thousands of young Israelis, the sun-drenched archipelagos of Southeast Asia were the perfect destination to forget the rigors of military service.

But this week, that post-Zionist nirvana became a nightmare. The tsunami that swept India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands on Sunday plunged hundreds of Israeli families into a frenzy of worry over relatives feared lost while touring.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that witness testimony suggested that at nearly 70 of the approximately 500 Israeli tourists still unaccounted for in hard-hit Southeast Asian nations may have been swept out to sea and drowned. At least 33 Israelis are receiving treatment in hospitals in the region, the Foreign Ministry said.

For thousands of families living in or visiting the Indian Ocean region, Sunday’s catastrophe confirmed their worst fears: At least 45,000 people were killed by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, mostly in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

A Belgian Jewish couple reportedly lost their 11-month-old son in the disaster. According to Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, Matan Nassima’s body was found Tuesday near the Thai resort where his family had been vacationing.

Details were not immediately known, but it also was believed that members of the South African, Australian and New Zealand Jewish communities were missing.

Immediately after the tragedy, Israel and Jewish groups swung into action. Israel’s Foreign Ministry set aside $100,000 in aid for each of the countries hit by the tsunami. Four top doctors from Israel’s Hadassah Hospital were dispatched to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the ministry’s request, Hadassah said. Among them were the hospital’s head of general surgery and trauma, its chief of pediatrics and two anesthesiologists.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka turned down an Israeli offer to send military personnel to help with search-and-rescue efforts but said it would accept a smaller team.

North American Jewish groups also were participating in the relief efforts. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) was expecting to send its first shipment of medicine Tuesday to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. It has been coordinating with 23 partner organizations in the region to assess needs on the ground. The group is hoping to receive donations to cover the cost of emergency supplies.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working with its office in Bombay and elsewhere to coordinate relief efforts. The organization is hoping to provide food, water, clothing and shelter to countries affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Chabad of Thailand responded to the crisis by dispatching a rabbi to Phuket to aid rescue efforts and turned the three Chabad Houses of Thailand into crisis centers where survivors can call home, get a free meal or receive funds for new clothing and medical help.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a Southeast Asia Relief Fund. To contribute, call (323) 761-8200, or send a check payable to The Jewish Federation at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 and write Southeast Asia Relief Fund on the memo line.

For families of potential victims, the waiting for news was excruciating.

At Erez Katran’s home in Haifa, a 24-hour vigil was set up next to the telephone in hopes that he would call. His family hoped Katran’s silence was due to the fact that he was incommunicado while sailing in the Bay of Bengal. Katran was among the Israelis who remained unaccounted for Tuesday, despite urgent Foreign Ministry efforts to track them down.

In addition to delivering bad news, the Israeli communications industry pitched in with the search efforts. Every major Web site set up a page where pictures of missing tourists could be posted in hope that someone would report their location, and one cellphone company offered its Israeli customers in Southeast Asia 10 minutes of free air time to call home.

JTA staff writer Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

Relief Donations Sought


The following Jewish organizations are seeking funds to assist in the relief effort:

• American Jewish World Service, ” target=”_blank”>www.jdc.org, (212) 687-6200, ext. 889.

• B’nai B’rith, www.bnaibrith.org or by mail to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund, 2020 K St., NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

• Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200; www.chabadthailand.com. For U.S. tax deductibility, checks should be made out to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand.)

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