Jewish groups this week said it was time to repay “a debt” to the Philippines, as survivors clambered from the wreckage of a devastating typhoon that has so far taken more than 10,000 lives, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
As the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan climbed well into the thousands, Jewish leaders said the community owed it to the islands to do what they could, recalling how the country helped save more than one thousand Jews during the Holocaust.
“A particularly heroic piece of history should be recalled by the global Jewish community, which owes a debt to this island nation,” said American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee boss Alan Gill. “Seven decades ago, a Philippine president and a globetrotting Jewish family named Frieder helped save the lives of more than 1,000 Jews, who otherwise would have almost certainly died in the Holocaust.”
During the operation, refugees were issued with travel certificates to work as skilled labourers in the Frieders’ cigar factories in Manila, the story of which has been the subject of the recently released documentary. An IDF medical and rescue response team, including four medical personnel from Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek medical centre, were sent to the region yesterday on a specially-chartered El Al fight. They will initially set up a field hospital.
In the UK, World Jewish Relief (WJR) led the British appeal while the Israeli Defence Forces sent a team, as did relief organisation IsraAID.
Much of the 7,000-island archipelago has been left in ruins after one of the biggest typhoons ever recorded swept over the low-lying islands, reducing homes to rubble. “This is the worst natural disaster the world has seen for years,” said WJR chief executive Paul Anticoni. “The force and scale of this typhoon is unimaginable. We hope the community will be as generous as possible to help us distribute much-needed assistance.” Jewish organisations immediately appealed for aid, with Gill invoking the spirit of wartime help while Anticoni spoke about tikkun olam –‘healing the world’ – when asking British families to give.
Other organisations quickly offered support to those closer to home. Jewish Care employs 74 staff from the Philippines, many of whom have family and friends affected by the world’s worst natural disaster in a decade.
In an open letter, directors said: “It is difficult to imagine how you must be feeling right now.” The charity offered help, including access to the staff benevolent fund, which offers employees up to £1,000 in emergencies. A Jewish Care spokesperson said it had already been accessed and that it expected more requests.