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Monday, April 21, 2014

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U.S. Jewish community mulling response to Chile quake

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NEW YORK — As U.S. Jewish organizations ponder how to respond to the massive quake that rocked Chile, they report that the infrastructure of the country's Jewish community suffered little damage.

In the wake of a devastating earthquake that struck Chile this past Saturday, United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto has established the Chile Disaster Relief Fund to assist thousands of victims.

Fund donations will be sent to IsraAID: The Israeli-based Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, which will be deploying a team of specialists to the country.  There IsraAID's disaster relief experts will provide medical treatment, conduct search and rescue operations and distribute food and clothing. United Jewish Appeal contributions have allowed IsraAID to save countless lives following many natural disasters including the recent earthquake in Haiti.

About two million people have been affected by the earthquake in Chile, with close to a thousand feared dead or missing, among them 255 Canadians.  In many cities, thousands, fearing aftershocks, have been sleeping in tents, parks or streets.
Approximately 20,000 Jews live in Chile, more than half in the capital of Santiago. According to reports from the country, Jewish facilities were either lightly damaged or were largely unaffected.

To donate to United Jewish Appeal's Chile Disaster Relief Fund, please visit ujadonations.com/chile or call 416-631-5705.

Chile and its capital, Santiago, while badly damaged, experienced less structural damage and significantly fewer deaths in Saturday's earthquake than did Haiti and its capital, Port-au-Prince, in January, even though the quake in Chile was much more powerful. The death toll in Chile reportedly stands at more than 700, with some coastal towns having been wiped out by the earthquake and a subsequent tsunami.

Early reports indicated that the Jewish community in Chile suffered minimal damage. Unlike Haiti, Chile has a recognizable Jewish community of about 16,000, centered mostly in Santiago.

Chabad-Lubavitch, which has an outpost in Santiago, saw some structural damage to its building, but the organization wrote on its Web site that the Jewish “communities bordering the Pacific Ocean emerged largely unscathed after one of the largest earthquakes on record sent buildings and bridges crashing down to their foundations throughout the South American country of Chile.”

Likewise, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee on Monday said it had no reports of significant damage to the Jewish communal infrastructure in Chile.

The JDC has opened a mailbox to collect money for the relief effort, and says it will work with the Chilean community to direct the assistance.

“We are waiting,” a JDC spokesman said. “In terms of Santiago, there was minimal structural damage to institutions. It is a very strong, self-sufficient community.”

Similarly World ORT, which runs two vocational schools in Chile, reported that damage to the Jewish community appeared to be minimal.

“Lights are still off in 60 percent of the city, public transportation is suspended, and the government has requested everyone to remain at home if possible,” Marcelo Lewkow, the national director of ORT Chile, wrote in a report the organization circulated through its newsletter.

Lewkow added, however, that the Chilean Jewish community “to my knowledge [has] not suffered any losses or casualties. Synagogues and schools are OK, pending a deeper evaluation by professionals, but there is no visible damage to the buildings or hydraulic systems.”

The American Jewish World Service, which has played a prominent role in the relief effort in Haiti, is not planning on setting up operations in Chile. AJWS is directing its supporters to http://www.alertnet.org and to MercyCorps.

Unlike in Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries -- the AJWS had been working there with a dozen development organizations on the ground prior to the quake -- AJWS was not involved in any work in Chile, which is wealthier and much better developed.

“Of the groups we know that are working on the ground, the one we know that has network of connections was Mercy Corps,” AJWS President Ruth Messinger told JTA.

On Monday, it was unclear if the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief was going to set up a mailbox, but it was set to convene soon to discuss the earthquake, a JDC official said. The JDC operates the relief organization.

The world also seems to have been a bit slower to react in Chile, as the South American nation has the public infrastructure to carry out much of its own rescue effort.

Israel is in contact with its ambassador in Chile, Ynet reported, and the government sent its condolences in a statement. Israel was among the first countries to help in Haiti.

There were no Israelis among the dead in Chile, according to the Israeli government.

"Israel stands by the Chilean government and people and wishes to send its condolences to the victims' families and offer its support to the residents at this trying time," the Israeli statement read, according to Ynet.

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