When Chabad of Nepal got word that about 50 Israelis were stuck in the several remote villages with no food, electricity or water, they sprang into action, organizing an effort to try and reach them. But a rescue mission to deliver food and a satellite phone to them by motorcycle yesterday ended after a 10-hour journey that met with blocked roads and no way to get through to them.
Earlier today, they tried again. This time, Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz-co-director of Chabad of Nepal with his wife, Chani-took to the skies himself in a Nepali helicopter to reach the stranded.
Since the quake first happened, Lifshitz has been communicating with many of the Israelis stuck in the mountain regions in remote areas like Dhunche and Syrabrubesi, using satellite phones fixed with GPS that the hikers are carrying. He then relays their locations to the Nepalese government.
It was earlier tragedy that made the use of the satellite phones possible. The family of Nadav Shoham, a hiker killed last year in a freak blizzard, donated the phones to ensure other hikers could be reached in case of emergency.
The phones are handed out to some backpackers when they leave the Chabad House so they can stay in touch and have become vital link in recent days.
When the rabbi touched down in Dhunche with food and water, he found the group cold, tired and hungry. The relief was clear on their faces as they gathered up their personal belongings and backpacks. Most were eager to head back home, though the Chabad House in Kathmandu would be the next best thing in the short term.
Twenty five were airlifted to Kathmandu and about the same number remain in various regions of the mountains waiting for their chance to be rescued. Bad weather delayed some helicopter rescues yesterday near Mount Everest, and some families are still waiting to be reunited with their loved ones and to know they are safe and sound.
(While the rabbi was out rescuing the stranded, his wife Chani was serving up 2,000 meals to Nepalis back at the Chabad center in Kathmandu and his children were being hosted at the home of Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.)
When Rabbi Lifshitz returned to the Chabad House at 9 p.m. this evening, he was not alone; he arrived with a group of rescued Israeli hikers in tow.
“With the kindness of G‑d, they succeeded in saving 25 friends,” his wife wrote on their Facebook page.
“They are weak after full days [without supplies] in the wilderness. We brought them all to the Chabad center. The crew here greeted them with tremendous emotion. They’ve now had a hot
meal, and received warm clothing and supplies. They are all here for the night.”
In response to the photos of the rescue operation, one woman posted: “Thank you very much for extracting from my brother and his girlfriend, there are no words to thank you for all you are doing.”
Tomorrow promises to be another day, another chance to reach those desperate to get home, another chance for more families to be reunited even if it’s through photos online.
To help with the earthquake relief effort, visit the special relief fund page: www.Chabad.org/Nepal.