An Update from Michael Balaban, CEO and President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

We are all devastated watching the news from the tragic earthquake in Turkey and Syria on Monday, February 6. The death toll is now above 11,000 and is still rising. The Jewish community in Turkey has also been hard hit. The president of the Antakya community, Saul Cenudioglu, is feared dead, along with his wife, Fortuna. The town’s synagogue was also partially destroyed. (See here for footage of the synagogue’s Torah scrolls being removed to safety).

This tragedy is a reminder of the importance of our global humanitarian network, which is supported through our annual campaign. Our core partners, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), have had professionals on the ground since the earthquake hit. They have been supporting the Jewish community there and are also providing broader humanitarian assistance. We are also in close contact with the Israeli government and other organizations that are assisting in relief efforts.

Finally, we have joined our national Federation system in opening a mailbox so that donors who wish to provide additional emergency support to this effort may do so quickly and directly.

Here is a summary of the efforts underway thus far:

  • JDC worked with the Turkish Jewish community to evacuate ten communal members from the immediate disaster area. All ten are now safe, and six of the group have been given accommodation in the community’s assisted living facility. The JDC team arrived on the ground within 36 hours of the quake and have now visited four of the hardest hit areas to evaluate the needs on the ground. In the coming days, JDC plans to focus on helping some of the estimated one million people left without homes cope with living outdoors in very difficult conditions. JDC will be supplying thousands of tents, heaters, thermal clothing, ready to eat meals and first aid kits. You can see photos of JDC’s efforts in our digital marketing toolkit here
  • The IDF has already sent a delegation of 150 search and rescue experts of the Home Front Command and will send a second delegation of 230 experts to establish a field hospital in the area in the coming hours (See here for details about the field hospital). Since arriving in Turkey late Monday night, the IDF mission, known as “Operation Olive Branch,” (see photos here) has aided the search and rescue activities.

    Last night, following a four and a half hour operation, the IDF team managed to rescue a young woman trapped under rubble and later also rescued a young boy. See moving footage of the rescues here and video of IDF Search and Rescue Team Commander, Maj (res.) Matan Schneider, describing the operation here.  (For background on IDF rescue missions over the years, see here. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that Israel also plans to send aid to Syria, including tents, medication and blankets, but the Syrian government has denied requesting aid from Israel. Israel and Syria do not have diplomatic ties; however, during the ongoing civil war there, the IDF carried out a significant humanitarian operation to treat wounded Syrian civilians.
  • A group of 25 volunteers from United Hatzalah left Israel for Turkey yesterday, including doctors, paramedics and trauma experts. They also sent ten tons of equipment and humanitarian aid. Joining them was a small group from the IsraAID organization, which included trauma experts, who traveled to Turkey with water purification systems. Rescuers without Borders, another Israeli NGO, has also deployed a small team of medical professionals to the field.
  • Jewish Federations of North America continues to work closely with our partners to monitor the situation. We will provide regular updates and will schedule a webinar as soon as possible.