Dateline: Santiago de Chile

On-the-ground reports from Chile:

from Masorti-Olami:

How about damage ?

In Concepcion, close to the epicenter of the earthquake, Rabbi Angel Kreiman told us that he went to the Synagogue, and “it was like the hurban habayit (destruction of the temple), the walls were all cracked and the roof had fallen down. I couldn’t stay there, so I got the sifrei Torah and left.”

Rabbi Shmuel Szteinhendler in Santiago told us, “we have some damage to our home, but its not too severe … . we will try and replace things and try to go on, while also assisting our kehillah members and at the same time supporting the local community at large who have suffered so much.”

The Rabbis, along with leaders of the Jewish community have come together to form a Crisis Committee. They are the ones best placed to decide where funds raised will go. Rabbi Alejandro Bloch of Santiago told us on Monday, “we have invited all of the community to Ma’ariv, and will make sure that all their basic needs are taken care of.”

from Marcelo Lewkow, National Director of ORT Chile writing from Santiago de Chile:

1 March, 2010

Our life:

Just three days ago, the earth moved violently in a phenomenon we felt would be a life changing event. National televised broadcasts have opened our eyes to the desperate situation in the south, the tsunami, the destruction, the vulnerability, the inability of the state to cope with such a tragedy, and to the military forces, feared so much in the past, being called upon by the populations of damaged areas to protect its citizens. After witnessing all of this, we understand that we, as a country, are experiencing a larger than life moment that will impact us as individuals and as a society for as long as we live.

Life in Santiago reflects the image you may be seeing internationally – most of us now have electricity and water, and after our initial fear and paralysis, we know that our loved ones, community, and city are safe and normalcy is returning to our lives. There are, of course, minor problems such as a shortage of gasoline (this means we only travel if absolutely necessary), electronic methods of payment (we keep cash available and keep all expenses to a minimum), and some minor damages and rioting in the poorer areas that television footage made to appear widespread and destructive, but which were actually short lived and easily controlled. Yet, just 200 kilometres away, the scenario differs greatly and is still not fully understood.

The Jewish schools in Santiago and Vinda del Mar are okay for the most part. Classes will resume next Monday, March 8th, and the Jewish community is quickly organizing itself to coordinate a nationwide campaign to help those who have been less fortunate. Among the less fortunate are a small, but significant, Jewish community in Concepcion, one of the areas which suffered greatly in the earthquake’s aftermath.

The country:

The area which suffered the greatest damage spreads from 150 kilometers south of Santiago and all the way to the city of Temuco, 600 kilometers from Santiago. As the epicentre was under the Pacific Ocean, right next to Chile’s coastline, damage was felt closer to the coast and less so in the mountains. It was the earthquake that destroyed properties, roads, and left people homeless with no basic supplies, waiting for help. Worse than the actual earthquake, a tsunami struck which wiped out entire towns, leaving in its aftermath death and destruction difficult to understand or comprehend.

This part of our country was a place with a major fishing industry and agricultural wealth. The earthquake struck just as the fruits, grapes for fine wine, and wood, were ready to be harvested.

A myriad of small towns throughout the region, as well as a few big cities (Concepcion is the 3rd largest city in Chile) suffered extensive destruction. Entire industries, farm lands, houses, government facilities, and schools were wiped out or severely damaged. An intensive and large scaled effort will be necessary to help this region regain its life and economy to what it was just a few days ago. The impact of what has been lost will be felt throughout the entire Chilean economy and will be severe.

To add further complications to the situation, in a week’s time the newly elected right wing government will be taking control as new state leaders and officers are selected and put into positions of responsibility. We can only imagine the confusion and desperation of both the old government, which will soon be leaving, and the new one, coming into office during the most upsetting of circumstances. There is no denying that there are many urgent needs, and the best thing for Chile to do right now is to continue with normalcy and production to support the reconstruction effort.

ORT in Chile:

ORT has been active in Chile since 1943 and aside from being closely linked to the Jewish community and schools, it is also widely known as an agent for bringing about quality changes in education throughout the country.

ORT Chile has worked with at least thirteen of the schools in the area which suffered the greatest from the earthquake. This work was funded by the government and private supporters, such as Coca Cola and Telefonica Corporation. Computer and science labs, early literacy projects, and technology for the disabled population are among the many projects which have been executed in recent years in the towns which have now been completely wiped away. An ORT professional had been due to travel to Talcahuano this Sunday to train teachers on computer science methodology through a project funded by Coca Cola. Today, Tacahuano hardly exists.

We are fortunate to have on-the-ground reports from both Masorti-Olami (The World Council of Conservative Synagogues) and ORT. As in the aftermath of all natural disasters, the situation in Chile is constantly changing; the information above was posted to eJewish Philanthropy early in the morning [IST], Wednesday, March 3rd, and was the most current available at that time.