Local community steps up to help Nepal earthquake victims

Local community steps up to help Nepal earthquake victims

The Pittsburgh Jewish community is answering the call to help those suffering in Nepal following the massive earthquake that shook the country on Saturday, leaving over 4,000 people dead.

By Sunday afternoon, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh had already launched an online campaign to raise funds to aid the victims of the quake. In fewer than 24 hours, 28 donors had contributed $3,264 to the Federation’s Nepal earthquake relief appeal, according to Adam Hertzman, the Federation’s director of marketing.

“We are sincerely grateful for this amazing outpouring of support,” Hertzman said.

The Jewish community here has been involved with resettling a large number of Bhutanese refugees — who are ethnically Nepali — for the last several years, according to Leslie Aizenman, director of refugee and immigrant services at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh.

Before immigrating to the United States, the refugees had been living for up to 20 years in a refugee camp in eastern Nepal after being forced out of Bhutan in 1991 or 1992, Aizenman said. There are currently about 5,000 Bhutanese refugees in the Pittsburgh area, many of whom utilize services offered by Jf&CS, including help with employment. In fact, the JF&CS hires many Bhutanese to work with more recent immigrants.

Sancha Rai, a Bhutanese refugee, is a service coordinator with JF&CS who helps coordinate refugee services for others. He lived in a Nepal refugee camp before he came to Pittsburgh and still has family and friends in Nepal.

“We are very sad,” Rai said about the earthquake but added that he was relieved to speak with his aunt in Nepal who was safe because her house was of new construction and could withstand the tremor.

“But she said it was really scary,” Rai said. “She was describing many buildings collapsed and many people killed.”

Rai, an educator, said he was concerned about many of his former students who are now attending university in Kathmandu.

“I’m not sure they’re safe,” he said. “I keep trying to contact them through email and through friends.”

He said that he plans to work to raise funds through the American Red Cross or World Vision for earthquake relief.

The JF&CS also will be available to “help in anyway we can,” according to Elizabeth Waickman, senior public relations associate at JF&CS. Those efforts will include coordination with the Bhutanese community, and providing emotional support for those who have loved ones in the affected areas.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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