Israel Defense Forces

Voices from the field

A Voice in Kathmandu

By Ayal Weiner-Kaplow

The days since the quake have been, without a doubt, some of the most terrible I've experienced, and also some of the most inspiring – it's been a roller coaster of emotions. I've had to become something of a self-salesman, inserting myself into as many relief projects as I can.

In the days immediately following the quake, I helped a team of Israeli doctors by translating for their Nepali patients into Hebrew. High school Ayal studying Hebrew at Niles North couldn't ever have imagined that this was one of the moments for which he was preparing. I have also spent some time helping build shelters and toilets in rural districts, and organizing teams of volunteers to go out and work.

On the side, I've been photographing and listening to survivors’ stories and posting them on Facebook. Initially, my thought was to share their stories with friends and family with the goal of helping make Nepal and its current struggle relatable and personal, to “meet” real Nepalis (should sound familiar to an iCenter audience).

It's also become a therapeutic project for me – meeting Nepalis who have lost quite literally everything except for their own lives, yet keep on living, not holding themselves as total victims, is humbling.

Nepal will rebuild itself. It will need a LOT of international aid, and a lot of time, but life will continue here. 

About a week after the quake, I came to the IDF army hospital in Nepal to help with a bit of translation (the IDF literally flew in a fully functioning hospital, X-Rays, operating rooms, everything. It was the best hospital in Nepal for the two weeks it was here). Anyway, I was later called into the search and rescue (pikud ha'oref) tent to help them understand the situation in one of the cities near Kathmandu, the one I had been in when the first quake hit. I walk in, and the soldier sitting there gives me a look and says, "Ayal!"

The Israel world is a small place but I did not expect to meet someone who I knew, davkah here, davkah now. So, I turned around to see if there was another Ayal in the room. There wasn't...

I didn't recognize her initially, but she quickly reminded me she had been at the iCenter's Masters Concentration in Israel Education seminar in January of 2014 – Tom Shay, from Kibbutz Lochmei Ha'getaot. After catching up over couscous, hot dogs, and tehina in the dining tent (I was pumped about the tehina, a hard-to-find commodity in Nepal), she explained to me that there's a Nepali man who works on her kibbutz whose family lost everything. The kibbutz members pooled a sum of money to help the family rebuild and get through this difficult time. They had asked Tom to deliver it to his family, but she was not allowed to leave the base for security reasons and also didn't know Kathmandu. Obviously, I offered to help. Later that day I made contact with the family in Kathmandu, now homeless and living in the back yard of a distant relative. I met up with them, they invited me for tea, and I delivered the money. It will help them a lot.

I never thought that my time at the iCenter would connect me to helping hand out relief money in Nepal, but the world works in funny and sometimes wonderful ways.

More about Israel in Nepal

To quote a fellow Israeli traveler, "In these uncertain days after the quake, I would be scared NOT to be Israeli." She was referring to everything that Israel did to help Israeli travelers. There were dozens of search and rescue experts hiking up into the mountains to locate and save Israeli hikers who had been stranded due to ongoing landslides and avalanches. Helicopters were acquired to help in this effort even when they were near impossible to find. The IDF brought in a fully functioning hospital to help injured Nepalis (and travelers as well). The Chabad here was keeping a list of all Israeli and Jewish travelers who were accounted for, and those still missing. They, even more so than the embassy, are the experts in search and rescue here; unfortunately this isn't the first time there have been disasters with hikers in the Himalayas. Also, for the three or four days following the quake, the embassy allowed Israelis (and those like me who snuck in by speaking Hebrew) to sleep on the grass of the embassy to have a safe place to stay outdoors, away from hazardous buildings. In the midst of an already emotionally trying period, processing all of this pride in what Israel was doing to take care of its own, and also of Nepalis, was incredible. It got me rethinking my current situation of having one passport. But that's a story for another day...