Given the range of duties undertaken by a typical Chabad female emissary — from teaching Hebrew school to hosting communal holiday meals — leaving her community behind for even a few days is a difficult task. But for two emissaries who joined 4,000 of their sisters here for a convention last week, leaving their homes in the sunny Caribbean was particularly challenging.
When the Jan. 12 earthquake shattered Haiti, Rochi Zarchi of Puerto Rico and Michal Pelman of the Dominican Republic —along with their husbands Shimon and Mendel — immediately sprung into action to assist with the disaster relief effort. Day after day, Zarchi and Pelman prepared kosher food bundles and supply packages to ship to victims and rescue workers in Haiti.
“We’re not on site, especially because every island is its own island. [Haiti] is not a bridge away or a boat ride away,” Zarchi said. “But we did coordinate many different forms of support and food for everyone, as well as kosher provisions for the Jewish relief and Israel division. Seeing what’s been going on there, it’s unbelievable what a disaster can do.”
The Chabad Haiti Relief Fund, under the joint auspices of Chabad Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic and of Puerto Rico, received grants from both the American Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Coalition Disaster Relief that paid for convoys of kosher food, water and medical supplies shipped to Haiti. Zarchi said that she and her husband prepared their contributions and sent them over to the Pelmans in the Dominican Republic, who in turn took care of getting everything to the final destination in Haiti.
Despite the islands’ relatively close proximity, San Juan, Puerto Rico, is still more than 400 miles away from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with an ocean and the Dominican Republic in between.
“It’s frustrating because, of course, you’re limited,” Zarchi said. “But we’re putting in a substantial amount of effort, and my kids feel so proud because their parents are involved. They see all the different Haiti relief funds, and they feel like they’re spearheading an effort.”
For Pelman, the aid effort was a bit closer to home, and her husband was actually able to travel twice to Haiti along with several of their convoys. But Zarchi and Pelman agree that even from a distance, they as women can bring a special sensitivity to disaster situations, infusing their participation with emotions different from the goal-oriented determination exhibited by their husbands.
“As a mom, as a woman, you probably see the tears of the suffering of the children, sending provisions of the children are so important, so they should have what to eat and what to wear,” Zarchi said. “It’s an intuition of a mother and a natural thing of a woman to feel the pain and that’s really what keeps you going.”
And while Chabad’s meetings, workshops and social gatherings in New York last week did not all revolve around the crisis in Haiti, Zarchi said that she and Pelman certainly benefited from the weekend and will bring a refined set of skills back to the Caribbean, strengthening their resolve to handle the ongoing disaster.
“We have women literally from all over the world. There were support and workshops from all different topics, and we have to apply everything to where we’re going back to,” Zarchi said. “In many different ways it’s almost crucial — you can’t miss out on it, you’re going to miss a heartbeat if you miss out on it.”
“When we leave, anytime during the year, you have to leave whatever you’re doing on a conveyor belt. We don’t leave for a vacation or break,” she added. “We were constantly in touch.”
The support from both Zarchi and Pelman’s Chabad houses will continue to heal Haiti, until aid is no longer needed.
“As long as support is necessary we’re there for the people,” Zarchi said. “That’s why we’re out here — to help people.”
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