Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Philippines

I was moved to see this wonderful email from CJP (the Boston Jewish federation) from an amazing woman. Geraldine and I have been to several countries on JDC-CJP missions together. She is a leader in the Boston Jewish community; when the typhoon hit she was on the ground, and served as a liaison for the Jewish community in the Philippines and JDC.

Her bravery, her commitment and her Jewish values are an inspiration.

Dear CJP Family,

As many of you know, I spent the past week in the Philippines coordinating relief efforts to various areas ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Locally known as Typhoon Yolanda, Haiyan is now considered one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the Pacific region. While my family was spared, many of my relatives and friends lost loved ones to the winds and sea as their homes were engulfed by 30 foot waves and as winds of over 195 mph battered debris across towns and cities, tossing people around like flies and literally ripping children from the arms of their parents.  With 4,000 dead and 3 million displaced, the numbers belie the additional horrors of those who currently survive. 

Highly anxious about my family's safety and what I might find upon reaching my damaged town, I was therefore surprised to receive an email from Barry when I landed in Manila.  That Barry even thought of reaching out to me during this time of need moved me greatly.  And the messages of support I subsequently received from Gil, Zamira and Seth provided so much comfort that I literally started crying when I received the emails. Though thousands of miles away, their thoughtfulness and concern exemplified to me the unique and authentic caring we have for one another in our Boston community. 

What happened after that was even more amazing.  As CJP opened a mailbox to support relief work, thousands and thousands of dollars poured in to fund CJP's coordinated efforts with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  It wasn't too long before I started communicating on a daily basis with JDC Israel and New York about what was going on the ground and how we might best create a strategic plan to maximize the deployment of funds especially donated by our Jewish communities. 

While waiting for the JDC to arrive, I, for the next few days, threw myself into distributing throughout my province potable water, food, tents, and other relief goods alongside the Red Cross and Rotary International. I toured damaged areas with UNICEF, providing much needed translations, since I speak the local dialects fluently. I also did what I could to comfort refugees seeking shelter in evacuation camps and donated medicines to local public health offices. 

When the JDC finally arrived a week later, I was able to provide them with both a written and oral report of my on-the-ground observations and thoughts regarding the country's needs and prospects for rehabilitation.  I am also continuing to arrange for them people to meet in government as well as the private sector.  Realizing how well we work together, JDC's Danny Pins (whose grandparents were flown by the JDC along with 1000 other Jews to the Philippines to escape Nazi Germany during World War II) has requested that I continue to "stay on the team" for the duration of this relief effort which of course I am absolutely more than happy to do. 

I also have to mention that in the midst of all the chaos, one of my more uplifting experiences was davenning with the Filipino-Jewish, mostly Sephardic Orthodox kehilla at the Beit Yaacov Synagogue on Shabbat in Manila. (The attached photo is a meeting of the leadership of the Philippine Jewish community with  Geraldine   and a representative of the JDC )   Surprisingly, I was able to follow along with the entire Sephardic service and derived much strength and comfort from singing some familiar tunes. At the kiddush we exchanged stories about our respective communities, discussed what we do at CJP and marveled at the amazing presence of the IDF, IsrAID, and soon to arrive Israel Trauma Network in the country's most devastated areas. 

As I reflect upon my experiences over the past week, I humbly think about how small we are in the greater scheme of the universe and how insignificant we seem against the powerful forces of nature. And yet, despite our human frailty, the Torah portion read at Beit Yaacov, of Jacob's struggle with the angel and his subsequent renaming as Israel also reminded me of how great we can be when we infuse our humanity with spiritual strength to overcome, and face head-on, whatever challenges might come our way. 

It is with this in mind that I wholeheartedly thank Barry, the Staff, the Board, and everyone at CJP for rising to the occasion and responding immediately, without hesitation, to address the unimaginable human suffering that has befallen the country in which I was born.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for reaching out to me and my fellow Filipinos in this dark time of need. And thank you so much for allowing me, through your actions, to experience the purest form possible of chesed and rachamim.  You have no idea how much spiritual strength you give me. I am so proud to be a Jew and a member of our community. 

With my deepest thanks,


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