48 Hours Separated 100 Israelis from Death in New Zealand

One hundred Israeli backpackers were in a Chabad center in New Zealand but left two days before the building collapsed in the earthquake.

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 10:56

Aftermath of New Zealand Earthquake
Aftermath of New Zealand Earthquake
Israel news photo: courtesy of Chabad.org

One hundred Israeli backpackers were in a Chabad center in New Zealand but left two days before the building collapsed in last week's lethal earthquake.

Only three Jews were in the Chabad Center in Christchurch when the quake struck. One of them was the center’s director, Rabbi Shmuel Friedman, whose wife Tzipi said saw the roof fall in and then ran without looking back.

At the same time, she was home with her one-year-old son in the Friedman’s fifth-floor apartment. “The ovens came out of the socket, cupboards came down, everything started to fly – I ran to get my son but the floor was shaking back and forth,” she said.

One Israeli, Ofer Mizrachi, of Kibbutz Magal, has been confirmed dead, and two others still are missing. Authorities identified Mizrachi's body Sunday morning. Police have updated the death toll in the disaster to 147, with another 50 not accounted for.

Israel has sent aid to New Zealand in the areas of  sanitation, water purification equipment and temporary shelters.

B'nei Akiva and Chabad have led efforts to help those in need and to rehabilitate the Jewish community, whose synagogue suffered damage and is temporarily closed.

“While there was plenty of food being distributed to the needy we received calls to bring food to a number of Jewish travelers in different shelters around the city, who had not eaten for as long as two days, as the food available had been catered, and not kosher, according to Chabad. Thousands of homes remain without electricity and phone lines.

B’nei Akiva has launched  a worldwide fundraising campaign, said its New Zealand emissary Moshe Na-Or, who added that the extent of the damage to the synagogue still is not known.

Israel’s Ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur,  wrote the country’s Jewish leaders, “Emergency centers monitoring the ongoing situation have been set up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem and at the Israeli Embassy here in Wellington…

“Our Embassy is working around the clock to deal with the situation, especially in respect of visiting Israelis whose documentation was lost in the chaos. I spent all of this past Thursday in Christchurch – it was a singularly distressing visit…

“In respect of the Christchurch Jewish community, I spoke with the former community president, Betina Wallace, who assured me that all registered members have been accounted for. The synagogue was, however, lightly damaged and would be closed until further notice.”