Not There and Them…But Here and Us

The numbing numbers coming from the horrific tragedy in Nepal keep rising. As of this writing, there are already some 2,500 known dead.

Survivors have abandoned the “shelter” of their homes to sleep in the street for fear of aftershocks bringing their houses down upon them. Rescue workers frantically dig — with tools and bare hands — in the rubble in the hope of finding people still alive.

Disasters often bring out the best in people. In Katmandu, the capital city of Nepal, much of the rescue work is being done by neighbors and strangers, banding together to help and support each other.

The international community has also responded — with help coming from governments and NGOs around the world.

Not surprisingly, among the first responders, are Israelis.

Nepal is a popular destination for young Israelis taking a break after completing their army service, and about 600 Israelis are in Nepal. Some 450 have been contacted, another 150 are missing. There are 68 Israeli trekkers stranded in the Langtang Valley, north of Katmandu.

Israel is flying in planes to bring back the Israelis from Nepal. But, as they did in disaster areas from earthquake-stricken Haiti to the tsunami in Thailand, Israel is also sending emergency crews to help the local population. The rescue workers include 400 personnel from the IDF and teams of Magen David Adom paramedics. They will be setting up a field hospital with logistics and medical experts.

In addition, Arutz Sheva reported that a joint team from United Hatzalah, Zaka and F.I.R.S.T. organizations are heading to Nepal to assist in rescue efforts. The team includes doctors, paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians, and search-and-rescue personnel.

United Hatzalah’s International Operations and Development Coordinator Dovi Meizels described some of what they expect to face when reaching Nepal. “Here we have a combination of high mountains, landslides, snow avalanches and obviously earthquake devastation — buildings have collapsed, and there are villages which have not even been reached yet that have been severely struck.”

As soon as they hit the ground, they will have to start dealing with injuries and other medical conditions that — with so much of the infrastructure of the country destroyed — no one can attend to, including psychological trauma.

They faced similar situations in Haiti and Japan, but each country has its own challenges. When it comes down to it, though, Meizels says, they discovered in Haiti and Japan, even though they didn’t speak the language and they are not psychologists, “A pat on the shoulder, a good feeling… the vibe comes through. People are people are people; if you come with good intentions people know you are there to help. If you put your hand out to help they’ll reach out to you.”

The United Hatzalah will join in efforts to locate and treat Israeli victims. In this effort, they will be coordinating with the Chabad House in Nepal, which is running its own rescue operation.

But Meizels said that his group’s main focus will be to help locals.

Their reason for being in Nepal “is about helping people, not only helping our own people — that’s what our organization stands for.”

When the Chofetz Chaim heard about an earthquake in Japan, nearly a century ago, he gathered the talmidim of the yeshivah in Radin and, weeping bitterly, he told them that when disaster hits anywhere in the world, we cannot be complacent. We have to take it personally. After such news, we can’t continue as before. We have to take stock and improve ourselves.

If we make ourselves better, even in some small way, we make the world better.