South Africa Jewish Community Helps in SE Asia
by D Saks
The South African Jewish community has been at the forefront
of relief efforts to assist South African holiday makers
stranded in the South East Asia region following the tsunami
disaster that has to date claimed well over 150,000 lives. A
high proportion of the more than 2000 South Africans caught
up in global catastrophe were members of the Jewish
community. Tragically, these included two of those since
confirmed dead, and hopes that two other South African Jews,
who have been listed amongst the missing, will be found alive
are fast fading.
Jewish survivors spoke about the tremendous trauma of being
caught up in a global catastrophe and, in some cases, of the
incredible siyata deShmaya that had enabled them to
survive. One man related how he had briefly left his ground
floor hotel room only a short while before the tidal wave
struck. When he returned, he found he had lost everything
except his tefillin, which he discovered —
perfectly dry — on top of a cupboard.
Through the efforts of the South African Jewish Board of
Deputies (SAJBD), working in close cooperation with the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Netcare 911, a special
mercy flight was organized to Phuket International Airport. A
number of volunteer Jewish doctors took part in the mission
to render medical assistance where necessary. Also in Phuket
— one of the islands worst affected — and
surrounding regions, were members of the Community Security
Organization (CSO), a Jewish defense organization that
operates under the auspices of the SAJBD. Working in close
cooperation with the local authorities, these helped search
for South Africans, making thorough records of all those in
hospitals, while its medical wing, Ezra, assisted those who
had sustained injuries. 68 people, the majority of them
injured, were ultimately brought back to South Africa in the
plane, seventeen of whom were Jews.
Also on board were the mortal remains of four South African
who perished. The latter included Morris Isaacson, who had
been a prominent member of the Jewish community in Cape Town.
Shortly after this, the body of a second Jewish victim, Paul
Sender of Johannesburg, was discovered.
Back in South Africa, the SAJBD and CSO set up a 24-hour call
center, and in the days following the disaster staff members
worked around the clock to assist those anxiously seeking
information about their loved ones. The SAJBD also opened an
account for the collection of money for relief and aid to the
South East Asia region. All funds collected will be handed
over to the Department of Foreign Affairs.