Jews Leading Japan Relief Effort

Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic movement and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee are both deeply involved in relief efforts in Japan.

Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 11:38

Aftermath of Japan tsunami and earthquake
Aftermath of Japan tsunami and earthquake
Israel news photo: US Navy

The worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic movement and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee are deeply involved in the Jewish community's response to Japan's growing national disaster.

Rabbi Mendy Sudakevich, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Japan said goodbye to his wife and six children and turned his attention to providing relief for some 400,000 of the country's homeless and hungry.

The rabbi's family was evacuated to stay with relatives in Israel after last week's 8.9-magnitude earthquake touched off a 10 meter-high tsunami that swallowed 1,300 kilometers of coastline and killed thousands of residents.

Coupled with hundreds of aftershocks and a partial meltdown of the reactor core in three of the country's nuclear reactors, the need for any assistance is urgent, noted Sudakevich.

Under the direction of Chabad-Lubavitch of Asia director Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon in Hong Kong, Sudakevich has already organized shipments of tons of basic supplies for the people of Sendai. Included in the first five-ton delivery were rice, water, bread, gas canisters, instant soups and blankets.

Avtzon estimated the joint relief effort for the people of Sendai “could end up costing upwards of $25,000 a day for a month.”

Sudakevich commissioned a bakery in Sendai -- the hardest hit area -- to serve as a base of operations for the relief effort and to distribute free bread. “We've organized 50,000 ready-to-eat self-heating food rations to be flown in from the United States,” he told

“In addition to our prayers,” Avzton commented, “all of Japan needs assistance.”

The JDC, which worked in the country before the Americans entered World War II, said it is empowering the Jewish community in Tokyo to channel donations to local NGOs providing aid to distressed areas.

Some 2,000 Jews live and work in Japan, according to Steven Schwager, JDC's chief executive officer, most residing in the capital and its suburbs.

“Our prayers and sympathies go out to the families of those lost in the earthquake,” said Schwager. “JDC will leverage its disaster relief expertise and strong partnerships in the region to react swiftly and sympathetically to the needs of victims.”

Death toll estimates have reached as high as 10,000 following the quake, the most powerful to strike Japan in 140 years.