SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Two Torah scrolls buried under the rubble of the Chabad house in Christchurch, New Zealand, have been saved.
Rabbi Shmuel Friedman, who escaped from the Jewish outreach center with an Israeli backpacker when a devastating earthquake struck Feb. 22, was trying to salvage remnants of the building in central Christchurch on Wednesday when he was stopped by a police detective, Chris Bell.
“When he heard of the importance of the Torah to Jews around the world, he put on his helmet and gloves and went in himself,” Friedman told Chabad’s website, Chabad.org.
“For me, it was extremely emotional,” said Friedman, who 24 hours earlier had said Kaddish for two Israelis before their bodies were repatriated. “It was such a beautiful scene when I saw the detective coming out from the Chabad house. It was like a fireman coming out of a burning building clutching a baby.”
The quake has claimed more than 160 lives, including three Israelis. The final death toll is expected to reach as high as 240, police have warned. Two Israelis have yet to make contact with their families, although it is unclear if they were in the South Island at the time of the tremor.
Rabbi Mendel Goldstein, the head of Chabad in New Zealand, said that “We are really overjoyed by this remarkable rescue by this heroic police officer. He went into what is literally an extremely dangerous situation and pulled out the Torahs; it’s completely unbelievable.”
Pledging to rebuild the Chabad house, Goldstein said he was organizing food from the North Island and Australia to feed volunteers as well as local Jewish families who lost their homes in the quake.