Nepal Earthquake Relief
A soldier with his dog from the Israeli Search and Rescue Unit hunting for survivors in the rubble from Nepal’s earthquake.
By Shira Sorko-Ram
When the horrific 7.8 earthquake shook the tiny country of Nepal, some 650 Israelis were roaming the trails, enjoying the breathtaking mountains and rivers and waving at friendly Nepali farmers in picturesque hillside villages. Most of the Israelis were around age 22 – fresh out of the army where they had just fought a body-andsoul- numbing war with Hamas last summer in Gaza.
There is a tradition among Israeli youths who have finished army service to take a year off after army and before college or career – to trek across some far-away land.
Though you will find Israelis in every corner of the globe, two of the most favored destinations are India and Nepal. Both nations are predominately Hindu, and the spiritual pervasiveness with their many gods is fascinating to Israelis. One journalist traveled to India to explore why Israeli young people go there. A guru he interviewed said that Israelis are the most spiritual-seeking people of all the tourists who come to India.
Among the annual 300,000 tourists who visit Nepal, one can usually find hordes of hippie types congregating on the steps of ancient Hindu temples getting blasted on cannabis, as smoking is part of Nepali culture.
One of the darker sides of this povertystricken country, the capital Kathmandu is also a “baby factory” for gay couples from around the world who contract surrogate Nepali mothers to give birth to babies. At the time of the earthquake, 26 babies had been born and were waiting to go back with their “parents” – homosexual couples from Israel.
Of course, most Israelis are there just to get away from it all and enjoy some of the most exquisite treasures of nature on earth. Some come for the ultimate delight – climbing up the sides of Mount Everest. Often they travel in small groups with their army buddies. Being healthy young people who have just left the army, they are fit to hike into some of the most daunting and remote trails anywhere.
And so it was on a beautiful Saturday morning, Israelis took off in different directions with plans to hike hundreds of miles over the coming days and even weeks.
At the same time, it being Saturday, quite a few stayed in Kathmandu to visit the ultra-Orthodox outreach center of Habad where they are served free meals and given a place to sleep, along with studies in Talmudic Judaism.
THE EARTHQUAKE HITS
The first Israeli team that arrived in Nepal two days after the earthquake.
The plane had already landed in India on Sunday, waiting for Kathmandu’s Airport to be repaired and reopened.
Then at 11:56 in the morning, the enormous earthquake began to rock and toss most of the entire nation – including Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Across the little country about a third the size of California, in thousands of isolated villages, the houses – made of rocks and mud for mortar – came crashing down on its citizens.
An Israeli witness in Kathmandu told how he heard the roar of the earthquake as he was knocked off his feet. But even more terrible, he said he “heard the screams of a million people” – a sound he can never forget.
ISRAEL FLIES OUT FIRST RESPONDERS
Back in Jerusalem, by Saturday afternoon Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a three-part plan ready to go: to set up a field hospital in Kathmandu, with medical personnel and search and rescue units; to send planes with emergency supplies and to transport Israelis trying to get out of Nepal back to Israel.
By Saturday night, the first Israeli Air Force experts were on their way to Nepal to assess the situation. Knowing that every minute is critical for those who could still be rescued under the rubble, the next day a military team of 250 along with search dogs were on their way, landing in Kathmandu on Monday. By Tuesday, the 60-bed field hospital was up and running with a capacity to serve up to 200 wounded a day. After India, Israel brought the largest contingent of emergency aid workers of any country to help the devastated Nepali people.
THE LARGEST FIELD HOSPITAL IN NEPAL
For 16 days, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) field hospital treated 1600 wounded, including 85 life-saving operations. Israel’s hospital offered operating rooms, imaging facilities, advanced labs and an intensive care section with 150 Israelis taking care of its patients. It was the place where the most critical patients in the city were brought.
Another ten doctors, nurses and midwives headed to remote areas in the mountains where no one had yet been. Driving seven hours, and then walking three hours, they carried on their backs an entire field clinic. When they arrived they found the destruction was nearly 100 percent – every home flattened partially or completely. Families sleeping outside, with little food. People traumatized. As the word spread, people came with injuries wrapped in dirty rags, limbs frozen at strange angels, infections that had festered beyond recognition.
ISRAEL’S OWN NEPALI TRANSLATORS
When there were not enough Nepali translators who could even speak English, Israel had its own networks to independently move into remote areas and carry out the rescue and relief. Israel began using the assistance of some of the hundreds of Nepali farmers who earlier had received advanced agricultural training at Israel’s agriculture institutions.
ALMOST NO SURVIVORS FOUND
Yet only four survivors were found among the rubble even though there were more than 100 search and rescue teams sent from around the world. Israelis rejoiced when IsraAID, another Israeli NGO, had a part in rescuing a 24-year-old woman who had endured five days under the rubble with her dead uncle who had fallen on top of her.
IsraAID plans to stay in Nepal for at least a year, and has already started rolling out its trauma therapy field model, especially to help children deal with the emotional side of this disaster.
In all, the quake has affected eight million Nepali. That’s the entire population of Israel. The Nepali government says some 519,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed. No one has any idea how many people are still buried deep under the rubble or avalanches of boulders and snow.
SEARCHING FOR ISRAELIS
Or Asraf, high in the Himalayas, days before the earthquake.
Meanwhile, the Israeli embassy in Kathmandu was diligently searching for every Israeli in Nepal. Within 24 hours, the Israeli embassy there reported that 100 were located at the Habad center and another 170 were given shelter in the courtyard of the embassy. But exactly 250 Israeli young people had not been located, much to the unbearable agony of the parents back home.
The Israeli Air Force rented helicopters from India to snatch the Israeli backpackers from all kinds of remote mountainous areas as virtually all roads and paths leading to the isolated hikers were impassible. Some told of how ice and snow avalanches fell on their camp, and those who escaped then dug their friends out alive. Israeli insurance companies also hired helicopters to extract groups of Israelis and lead them on foot to where they would be able to be evacuated.
One girl told how she had taken a satellite phone with her, much to the amusement of her companions. But because of that phone, she was able to call home and not only announce that she was safe, but record the location of her group and the names of all the other Israelis in the area.
ALL BUT ONE FOUND
Three days later, every Israeli backpacker had been located but one – Or (meaning light) Asraf, an IDF veteran who had been wounded in the war with Hamas. On Wednesday, Or’s mother, Orit was at Ben Gurion airport where Israelis were returning aboard Israeli Air Force planes. She had a large sign saying, “Have you seen Or Asraf?” A number of hikers had seen him before the earthquake. He had told them he was going ahead alone and would meet them in a village in Langtang. But no one had seen him after the earthquake.
On Thursday, his father Patrick flew to Nepal on an IAF plane vowing he would not return without his son. And here is where, in such situations, I see what I would call that collective God-spark that is deep in the soul of the Jewish people. The entire nation, with their apps receiving constant news updates, yearned to see this young man come home.
Almost a dozen fellow ex-soldiers volunteered to travel with Patrick to search for Or. Backpackers, instead of coming home, joined the search, looking at every body lying in the rubble. Even Or’s commander, who was there with the search and rescue teams received permission to leave the field hospital and search for Or. More choppers were put into service, funded by private donors. The nation was praying.
But when his father arrived in the area where Or was last seen, he sent back word, “We realized the task would be extremely complex, if even possible at all. The area had suffered a terrible earthquake. It looked like an atomic bomb had been dropped. Iwas afraid that in the end I would have to leave him in the mountains.”
THE DANGEROUS SEARCH CONTINUES
As Israeli Backpackers disembark from IAF planes, Or’s mother Dorit Asraf stands at Ben Gurion airport with a sign saying, “Has anyone seen Or Asraf (in the Langtang area)?
For three days his buddies searched for Or in dangerous terrain where there was constant threat of mudslides and landslides. They fought strong winds, heavy rain and hail. They came across the bodies of both foreign travelers and local Nepalis killed in the quake. But Or’s body was not found, giving rise to fears that he had been buried in a landslide.
And then Or was identified by his own commander, apparently by a mark on his body eight days after the earthquake. Or was only 100 meters from an area where he could have been rescued. But he had no chance. Once he was identified, his buddies risked their lives and carried him in the pitch dark over an hour’s slog through the mountains so they could return him home.
Or’s parents released a statement the afternoon after the discovery: “His direct unit, veterans of the Egoz Reconnaissance Unit, headed by his commander, found Or in the Langtang National Park after a series of intensive searches in impossible conditions under a serious risk of injury.”
At his funeral in the southern desert area of Israel, thousands of people came from all over the country. Patrick told how he was thankful the avalanche did not hide his son’s body, and that his son didn’t suffer an agonizing death. In his grief he said, “I am proud of the State of Israel that sent a rescue team and more, when bigger countries did not even send one rescuer.”
THE SEARCH FOR THE ONE
During the whole ordeal, I kept thinking of the verses in Matthew 18:1-3:
If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that\ one of these little ones should perish.
The death of this young son is a national tragedy; the whole nation participated in its grief. Yet, how great will be the day when Israel finds the Son of Man, waiting to bring deliverance to our nation.
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
As I finish this article, my breaking news app says that a 7.3 earthquake has again struck near Mount Everest. The damage cannot even be imagined in the villages hanging on the sides of the mountains. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said he is ready to send his first responders back to Nepal, if needed.
Also today I heard from an Israeli American evangelist who receives monthly support from Maoz and who has just returned from Nepal. He was with a group of doctors who attended the sick in outlying villages. After the doctors finished, he prayed for the sick to be healed. He said that many of the villagers are open to Yeshua the Messiah who can bring them salvation and healing.
Nepal, a spiritual stronghold of Hindu gods, needs spiritual warriors around the world, persistent intercessors to bring the people of this beautiful country to the Throne of Grace.
HINDU TEMPLES DESTROYED
The buildings in Kathmandu, a city of 5,000,000, were as a rule made of stronger materials and most escaped damage from the earthquake. But nearly all of the ancient Hindu temples throughout the city were destroyed. According to UNESCO, 68 cultural heritage sites were completely destroyed. This is 80% of Nepal’s UN World Heritage Sites. Israel sent IDF engineers who evaluated the stability of 332 other structures in the capital damaged in the earthquake.
Among the shrines utterly destroyed in Kathmandu was the iconic, nine-story Dharahara Tower, the tallest structure in Nepal famously topped by a statue of Shiva, the god of destruction and the most powerful deity in Hinduism. However, “the Destroyer’s” most famous and revered dwelling, the Pashupatinath Temple was virtually unscathed, Kathmandu’s planning chief said, because it had been reinforced and held together by the strong metal sheets in its roof. Spiritually speaking, the Destroyer still rules beautiful Nepal.
In this poverty-stricken and destroyed country, where hundreds of thousands of homes need rebuilding, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala vowed to rebuild all the fallen Hindu temples and shrines.
What can we say? This nation desperately needs to know the God of Life in this world and Eternal Life in the next. Not a god who calls himself the Destroyer.