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Report from Haiti by Meir Lax

 On Thursday afternoon I received a phone call from Rabbi Mendy Zarchi in Puerto Rico, there had been a devastating earthquake a few days before in Haiti and the Shliach in the Dominican Republic needed help coordinating the Chabad relief effort from there. By that evening I was on a flight to Santo Domingo together with my friend Boruch Cohen. When we arrived, the Shliach - Rabbi Pelman was in Haiti with truck loads of supplies and was assessing the situation on the ground. He arrived back in S. Domingo minutes before Shabbos, where Boruch and I had been busy fielding phone calls and emails from people who wanted to help, needed a place to stay, or were just looking for information. We also helped prepare the Chabad House for Shabbos.

It was decided that we would head to Haiti on Monday morning to accompany a truck load of food and supplies for the earthquake victims, and to deliver kosher food to the Israelis who were there. On Sunday morning we Koshered a Pita bakery for the troops, we then spent the rest of the day shopping and gathering supplies for the trip. We must have bought out all the canned food, rice and juice in town; bottled water was hard to come by, apparently most of it had already been sent to Haiti.
We got up at 5:30 Monday morning to load the supplies and gather our things for our trip to Haiti. Alongside us we had a truck full of food and supplies for the people in Haiti. Going on the trip were myself, Boruch, Rabbi Pelman, and Isaac, the vice president of the Dominican Jewish community, who had come along to help out. Also joining us were two German doctors who had attempted to volunteer through the German embassy, but were told that Germany would not be involved in Hatian relief; they instead paid their own way to S. Domingo and we were bringing them to Haiti in order to volunteer in the Israeli Field hospital.
The drive to the border takes about four hours, a good amount of time is spent driving on unpaved or badly paved roads, which adds to the travel time. As we near the Haitian border, it is clear that the poverty level of the surrounding areas is steadily increasing - the houses are getting smaller and ricketier and there are more and more people on the streets with nothing to do. I am told that the unemployment in these areas is above eighty percent.
The Haitian border is a buzz of activity, there are search and rescue teams and emergency vehicles continuously coming and going to restock, refuel and sometimes to drop off patients. The border itself is not like anything I've seen before, instead of the typical security, checkpoints and entry-points, there is just a metal gate which the border guards open and shut to let people in and out. Gathered on the Haitian side of the gate are hundreds upon hundreds of people trying to escape the pain and suffering in their country, but the police only allow a small trickle to get through into the Dominican. It seems that the only people allowed to cross are those that are planning on getting supplies and returning immediately.
Once we cross into Haiti, we stop in front of the Haitian immigration office to await an armed UN convoy which we will be joining for our trip into town. Port Au Prince, was near the epicenter of the earthquake and is where all the disaster relief efforts are taking place. Typically, Port Au Prince is about a one hour drive from the border, but with the bad condition of the roads and the large amount of traffic headed into town, the ride takes closer to two hours. Immediately after crossing into Haiti I am struck by the natural beauty of the land, there are beautiful mountains surrounding a bright blue lake with the main road running right alongside them. But as we begin to get further and further from the border, signs of destruction and devastation become more frequent. There are collapsed houses, large boulders laying in the road and farm animals roaming freely, seemingly ownerless, through the streets. There are also many people sitting on the side of the road homeless with nowhere else to go.
The city of Port Au Prince is completely devastated, almost every building in site is collapsed or heavily damaged, there are hundreds of thousands of people roaming the streets looking completely dazed and confused and all the cemeteries have freshly dug graves. By the time we arrive in Port Au Prince there are no more bodies laying in the road, the police have collected them all and buried them in mass graves in order to ward off disease. The airport is one of the few structures in town that was not destroyed, it is therefore the hub of activity for almost all of the major aide organizations in Haiti. The Red Cross, the UN and all of the other countries which have sent aide are based out of the airport; there are a bunch of different flags and languages all over the place. The airstrip itself is controlled by the Americans who have been working to coordinate the vast amount of air traffic flowing into Haiti. It seems that the vast majority of the flights landing are U.S. helicopters and cargo plains which fly overhead every minute.
Standing outside the airport are thousands of people with all of their belongings packed into bags hoping to catch a flight out of Haiti. Many have given up hope and are looking to leave their country for good, saying they have nothing to return to. But they are all left standing outside in the heat hoping and waiting, because there are no passenger flights leaving the country. Many look is if they have already been there for days and are prepared to wait even longer. Immediately past the main entrance to the airport are thousands more people waiting at the gates to the World Food Program hoping to get something to eat, but there is no food coming out.
As we continue down the streets of Port Au Prince, I notice injured people all over the place, it looks as if almost everyone got hurt in some way. Nearing the Israeli hospital, we begin to see hundreds of ill and injured people lined up waiting to be admitted to the hospital. There also hundreds more people waiting to hear word on friends and relatives in the hospital. Every few minutes vehicles arrive bearing more injured people, anything that moves has been converted into a makeshift ambulance; people are arriving in buses, motorcycles, and even the backs of trucks.
As we arrive at the Israeli camp, we are greeted by the camp commander and Rabbi Shaul Ofen - the camp rabbi. Many soldiers are happy to see us, they have been cooped up in this hot camp for days and are happy to see outsiders coming to visit. In addition, we brought with us a load of fresh pita and kosher food for the soldiers to eat and they are thankful for that. Immediately upon arrival, Rabbi Ofen brings us over to the shul (yes there's a shul in the camp) to make a minyan for mincha. After mincha, we are recruited to assist in the hospital. There are many doctors and nurses around, but they need some extra manpower. I head over to the ICU to help move patients between treatment areas. One of the doctors asks me to help carry one of the patients to the operating room for surgery. As I'm carrying him, I look into his eyes and see how scared he is, I try to reassure him, but his leg is badly hurt and he needs serious surgery. In the operating room, one of the surgeons offers to allow me to stay and watch the surgery, but I decline, I don't think I could handle it.
The Haitian hospitals have all been badly damaged or destroyed and are barely functional, the UN hospital is basically just a bunch of beds in a tent, seriously lacking medical supplies. Many people are losing limbs or even dying from small wounds that have become infected. The Israeli field hospital is the only truly fully operational hospital in town and many are arriving hoping to get the life saving medical treatment that they need. Inside the hospital is a different world, it is clean and organized and many lives are being saved. It is incredible what the Israelis have done, they set up a fully functional hospital, full of hi-tech equipment, in the middle of a soccer field, in just eight hours.
At the gate there are two doctors admitting patients based on the severity of their injuries. Once admitted, the patients are brought immediately to the triage tent, where a doctor assesses the extent of their injuries and begins to provide basic treatment. From there they are brought to the proper treatment area, some are brought to the intensive care unit, others are brought to the internal medicine tent, and yet others are rushed into surgery. The hospital contains a fully functional (air conditioned!) operating room. There, the surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists have been working around the clock operating on many of the worst cases brought into the hospital. A large portion of the surgeries they have been performing have been amputations of infected or crushed limbs. The hospital even has a hi-tech imaging department where radiologists can pinpoint any internal damage which patients may have suffered.
One of the most amazing areas of the hospital is the maternity ward, there, amongst all the death and suffering, new life enters the world. So far, three babies have been delivered at the hospital, two of them were premature and are in a climate controlled, germ free incubator. Two mothers were so thankful that they named their babies Abraham and Israel. I am struck by how safe and protected the babies seem inside their incubators, surrounded by doting doctors and nurses; yet I am worried about them, they have entered a scary world which has all but been destroyed. I wonder where their mothers will bring them when they are released from the hospital.
After a few hours at the hospital, we prepare to head out into the city to deliver the food and supplies which we brought with us. We meet up with our translator Kuul who we have hired for the day. We are told that it is unsafe to just randomly drive into the city with a truck full of food as we will be mobbed by desperately hungry people. Instead, we decide to go with Kuul to his neighborhood, which is considered much safer and where he knows everyone. As we enter the neighborhood, I notice the incredible destruction everywhere, almost every single house has collapsed and people are living outside in tents.
Driving through the streets of the neighborhood towards Kuul's house, people begin to notice our truck and a crowd begins to follow us. Our first stop is to meet with Kuul's mother, family and neighbors, there we hear first hand about the earthquake and its aftermath. Everyone we meet has lost family and friends in the earthquake. Kuul's father, uncle and five friends all died when part of his house collapsed. We discuss with the people we meet exactly what their needs are, everyone desperately needs food and water. Kuul explains to us that due to the poverty in Haiti, it is normal for people to go a day or two without eating, but people have already gone nearly a week with almost no food and are desperate.
As we return to the truck, a crowd of a few hundred people have gathered hoping for some food. Although the crowd is large, people are relatively calm and happy to see us. Kuul and a number of his friends work to control the crowd while we unload the food into an alley, from there they will distribute the food to the people who need it. Unfortunately, by this time many hundreds have gathered and we do not have enough food for all of them. It is hard to see the disappointment in the faces of those that did not receive anything. We must return with a lot more food and supplies just to make a small dent in the situation.
Once we are done distributing the food, it is time to head back to S. Domingo, we don't want to be stuck in Port Au Prince after nightfall without a secure area to spend the night. As we head out of town and the sites and scenes of destruction are whizzing by my window, I begin to process what I have seen and experienced here. I am left to contemplate how in a mere moment a major city of three million people was destroyed, one third of the country was rendered hungry, desperate and homeless, nearly one hundred thousand people died and hundreds of thousands more were badly injured. I also notice people of all nationalities, colors and religions on the streets working to help save a desperate nation, it is amazing how the mightiest fighting forces in the world have been dispatched on a mission of life and peace, truly beating their swords into plowshares.


TDS Alum Meir Lax assists with Haiti Relief

Meir Lax assists at the Israeli Field Hospital in Haiti

Our own Torah Day School '98 Alumnus Meir Lax went in to Haiti with a friend immediately after the earthquake to help Rabbi Pelman as part of Chabad relief effort in Haiti. 

Besides efforts in Haiti itself, Meir has been coordinating truckloads of supplies from the Dominican Republic and has kashered a Dominican Republic bakery so they could deliver kosher food to Jewish relief workers and Israeli soldiers. 

Read the blog on the webpage linked to below for the complete story.

Yud Shevat Reservation page


This year's Yud Shevat marks 60 years since the passing of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe and the beginning of the leadership of our Rebbe OB"M.

We've been learning the Chasidisc discourse of Basi Legani, we were inspired by Rabbi Mendel Kaplan - all in preparation for this great auspicious day.

We are arranging for a group to go the Ohel (in NY) in honor of this auspicious day.

After a lot of effort we managed to secure a cheap group rate with continental airlines.

We will be leaving IAH Sunday 1/24/2010 9:30am, arrive LGA 2pm and returning from LGA on Monday morning 1/25/2010 5:50am and arrive in Houston at 8:42am. The fare is $247.80 per person (regular price without the group is $1337.90). 

Continental airlines will only be holding this amazing group fare until Friday morning 1/15/2010 8am Central time. You must submit your information to us by clicking here before that time.

If you have any questions, feel free to call Rabbi Vidal (713)935 6645

May we merit to celebrate Yud Shevat with Moshiach in Yerusholayim!

Kol Tuv and have a good day

THIS SUNDAY: Rabbi Mendel Kaplan Guest lecturer (& other classes on life's purpose)

Click here for the complete flyer and more information and many offerings and exciting lectures!

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