Dramatic Shabbat rescue on Caribbean island

ZAKA volunteers worked desperately Shabbat to save Chabad emissary's family stranded during hurricane.

Tzvi Lev ,

Hurricane Irma devastates the Dominican Republic
Hurricane Irma devastates the Dominican Republic

ZAKA volunteers, together with representatives from Israel, New York and Holland, worked throughout Shabbat in a multi-national WhatsApp rescue operation. The mission – to arrange the rescue of the wife and children of the Chabad emissary, stranded in treacherous conditions on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.

Rabbi Moishe Chanowits, his wife Sara and five children aged under 8, remained on the island to offer assistance to others during Hurricane Irma. However, as the winds picked up speed over Shabbat, the family left their home for Chabad House, situated on higher ground. In the pressure of the moment, they forgot that the building was undergoing renovation and therefore did not find a safe haven there.

This was a classic case of the rabbinical dictum that rescuing a life takes precedence over the rules of Shabbat. The Rabbi contacted World Chabad in New York and the ZAKA Search and Rescue organization, requesting help in evacuating his family from an island whost sea and air routes were closed.

A dedicated WhatsApp group was opened to facilitate the trans-Atlantic rescue, including New York based Chabad Executive Director Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein, ZAKA International Director David Rose, Zvi Gluck and David Kushnir from Amudim, Rabbi Isaac Lieder from Monsey and representatives from Israel’s National Emergency Management Authority, the Foreign Ministry, Israel Ambassador and the Military Attache in Holland and others.

After hours of searching for a private plane to rescue them, Rabbi Isaac Lieder did find an 8-seater plane willing to fly – however, the Dutch authorities in St. Martin refused landing permission on the island.