The body of a rabbi has been pulled from the rubble in Mexico by Jewish search and rescue volunteers there in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.
Rabbi Haim Ashkenazi of the Kehillat Magen David synagogue had been working in the office building when a quake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale struck just south of Mexico City on Tuesday afternoon, killing more than 300 people.
Volunteers from Orthodox charity ZAKA were joined by a 70-member team from the Israeli Defence Forces’ home command, who arrived on Wednesday, after being given permission to travel on Rosh Hashanah by the IDF chief rabbi.
ZAKA volunteers in Mexico, working continuously together with the Mexican Jewish rescue and recovery organization Cadena, were already in the country following another earthquake a few days earlier.
They recovered Ashkenazi’s body from the rubble of the office building after the Chief Rabbi of Mexico, Shlomo Tawil, gave them permission to work on Shabbat. Ashkenazi was related to Tawil by marriage.
“Immediately after Shabbat went out in Mexico, we received an update from our team in Mexico that they had recovered the body of the missing Jewish man,” said ZAKA’s Mati Goldstein. “We will remain until we receive an update that there are no more missing people,” he said.
The IDF team, led by Col. Gili Shahan, arrived 48 hours after the earthquake and was due to return later this week. The 70-strong Israeli unit comprised search and rescue teams as well as structural engineers, who have now surveyed more than 100 buildings.
“We started work two hours after we arrived, after the 20-hour flight,” said Shahan, speaking to Jewish News this week. “We were one of the first international teams there.
“We tried our best but unfortunately we have not been able to save anyone [from the rubble] but we have been able to check the structure of more than 100 public buildings such as hospitals and schools,” said Shanar. “We’re using specialist Israeli software that is being translated into Spanish.”
An estimated 40,000 Jews live in Mexico City and World Jewish Relief chief executive Paul Anticoni said many people would have “lost everything,” as the charity launched an appeal ahead of Rosh Hashanah.
“On the High Holy Days we recite the Unetaneh Tokef prayer which speaks – terrifyingly – about who will die by earthquake,” said Anticoni.
“Jewish tradition teaches us that while we can’t stop natural disasters, we can choose how we respond to them. Please help us support the people of Mexico.”
ZAKA Mexico commander Marcus Cain said it was “impossible to describe the scope of the disaster,” adding: “Millions of people are without power, there is great confusion and distress.”