From Our CEO
Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria
February 10th, 2023

Despite the steady news coverage, it’s difficult to fully comprehend the scope of destruction in Turkey and Syria. As I write, the death toll has passed 23,000 and is still rising. Buildings have turned to dust, the weather is brutally cold, traumatized survivors have nowhere to go. Every rescue has been a celebration and, increasingly, as the hours tick by — a miracle.

There are many thousands of stories, only some of which we’ll ever know. Right now, one that feels especially close to home: Saul Cenudioglu, the president of the small Jewish community in Antakya, and his wife, Fortuna, are confirmed among the dead. Our partner the Jewish Agency has flown their children from Israel (where they currently live) to Turkey, as they deal with this tragic loss.

Antakya has a small Jewish community, one of the oldest in the Islamic world, with no more than 20 people. Most are elderly and their homes are now unlivable. Almost immediately after the disaster, another partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), provided shelter for them in an assisted living facility operated by Istanbul’s Jewish community. Some will likely make aliyah to Israel, supported by the Jewish Agency.

In addition to helping the Jewish community, JDC is now focused on helping those who lost homes access the supplies needed to live safely outdoors in harsh conditions.

The Israeli government has sent a delegation of 150 search and rescue experts and a team of 140 medical personnel in a mission called “Olive Branches.” As reported by the Times of Israel, the rescue team pulled out a 10-year-boy who had been trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building for 100 hours, bringing the total number of people now rescued by the Israeli team to 18.

Also today, the medical delegation assisted in the reopening of a hospital in Kahramanmaras. Using Israeli supplies, they are now able to treat the wounded in the hospital’s intensive care and operating rooms. The Israeli government also intends to send medical supplies to Syria, despite the Syrian government denying any request for aid.

In an interfaith solidarity call convened this morning by the New York Board of Rabbis, we heard from Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S. and the consul general to New York. Both thanked the Jewish community for our support and called out Israel, which has sent the second-largest search and rescue team. On behalf of the New York Jewish community, I expressed our deepest condolences for the devastating loss of life.

Activating our emergency protocols, UJA today approved an immediate allocation of $200,000 to five nonprofits, with more funding to be allocated as soon as Monday to other organizations. The five initial organizations:

  • JDC and the Jewish Agency, our two largest overseas partners, to support their ongoing efforts helping members of the Jewish community and beyond.
  • Latet, a leading social service provider in Israel, which is working closely with the Israel-Turkey Chamber of Commerce, various embassies, IsraAID, SmartAID, United Hatzallah, and others to send humanitarian aid. The aid is being delivered on donated Turkish airplanes; the first has already arrived.
  • Afya, a longstanding UJA partner in crisis relief, which is sending five container loads of medical supplies via the Turkish embassy to support the needs of the injured.
  • The Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood, based in New York and with longstanding ties to the Jewish community of Turkey, which is helping to provide food, shelter, and medicine.  

We know perhaps too well that these earthquakes are not the first nor the last natural disaster that will call on us to respond. In times like this, we recognize the importance of our overseas network of partners who stand at the ready around the globe. At a moment’s notice they jump into action to rescue, feed, shelter, and more. What gives them the ability to do this is the foundational annual funding we supply — millions of dollars before the crisis hits — which we could not do without your support. And if you’d like to contribute to current relief efforts, please give here.

With already heavy hearts, we learned this morning of yet another horrific terrorist attack in Israel, this time a car ramming in Jerusalem that killed a 6-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man. Another child is in critical condition. We’re aware this week, more than ever, that life can end in an instant. The targeting of innocent civilian Israelis is heinous and cannot be allowed to continue.

As we enter Shabbat, there are a heartbreaking number of people to pray for: the victims of the earthquakes and their families, the bereaved families and the injured in Israel, and the heroic rescuers in Turkey and Syria risking their lives to help others.  

May they all find comfort, peace, and healing.

Shabbat shalom