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Jewish groups mobilizing response to Japan quake

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Smoke rises from a burning building in a Tokyo neighborhood after an 8.9-magnitude earthquakes hit Japan, March 11, 2011. (Hikosaemon / CC)

Smoke rises from a burning building in a Tokyo neighborhood after an 8.9-magnitude earthquakes hit Japan, March 11, 2011. (Hikosaemon / CC)

(JTA) – Jewish organizations are mobilizing their responses to the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday.

IsraAid, an Israel-based coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, said Friday that it has two teams of rescue personnel, emergency medical officers and water pollution specialists ready to deploy to Japan but was looking for ways to reach the affected area.

Because the airports in the affected area are flooded and Tokyo-area airports closed on Friday, IsraAid said it was exploring the possibility of flying to a nearby country and then trying to make it to northeast Japan, where the tsunami has killed hundreds and devastated cities and towns.

“We’re in touch with local groups to check the situation in the area,” Shachar Zahavi, chairman of the group, told JTA in a telephone interview. “We’re trying to get to the closest airport and then get to the affected area from there.”

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement reported that its emissary in Tokyo said the Jewish community there largely was spared any serious injury or damage from the 8.9-magnitude quake that rocked the city Friday morning. The Israeli Foriegn Ministry said late Friday that some 25 Israelis in Japan still had not contacted family or embassy officials to report on their safety.

ZAKA, the Orthodox-led rescue and recovery organization, announced Friday that it would send a search-and-rescue team to Japan as soon as Shabbat in Israel ended.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would help in whatever way possible.

The Japanese consul in Israel, Mitoshiko Shinomya, told the Israeli news website Ynet that he was heartened by the Israeli government’s offer of assistance. "Israel officially offered its help an hour after the earthquake struck,” Shinomya said. “It is very heart-warming, but at this point we do not know exactly what the extent of the damage is, so it is difficult for us to say what can be done.”

The Jewish Federations of North America set up an emergency relief fund to help those in affected areas and urged local federations to do the same. “We are determined to provide emergency relief as quickly as possible and to work with our partners to provide support over the longer term as well," said Fred Zimmerman, chairman of the Jewish Federations’ Emergency Committee.

The organization said it is working with its partner the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which also started a Japan/Pacific disaster relief fund, to support relief efforts. 

"JDC is now conducting an up-to-the-minute assessment of the situation in Japan and the Pacific Rim and has activated its network of partners to determine critical, immediate needs of the hardest-hit areas," the JDC said in a statement Friday.

B’nai B’rith International and the Orthodox Union also established an eqarthquake emergency fund. A spokesman for American Jewish World Service, which played a leading Jewish role in responding to the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, said it would not be responding to the Japan tsunami because AJWS, which works in the developing world, does not have any partner organizations in Japan.

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