In an effort to personalize the tragedy of earthquake-stricken Haiti and help raise funds for its victims, Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan held a Shabbat healing service.
Featured at the March 12 service were Todd Stone-Sapp, an 18-year-old Mercer County Community College student, who was on a mission in Haiti when the earthquake struck Jan. 12; and Haitian native Catherine Charlot, whose family was devastated by the disaster.
The evening was arranged by congregants Bonnie Kass-Viola and Joan Fischer.
“Congregants are still talking about the service, how moved they were by the personal stories they heard and how much they want to help those who have lost everything as a result of the earthquake,” said Rabbi Melinda Panken. “Jewish tradition tells us we cannot turn away from the divine call right now to lift the fallen, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. Whatever and however we can help Haiti rebuild is a sacred obligation.”
The congregation collected more than $5,000 for the Union for Reform Judaism’s Haiti Relief Fund.
Stone-Sapp, who had never before been outside the United States, arrived in Port-au-Prince Jan. 12 and left via van for Thoman, a small mountain village about two hours from the capital. As they drove, he and his group noticed rocks and gravel sliding down the hillside; only hours later did they learn the reason why.
After finishing their service at a medical clinic in Thoman, they went to offer help in Port-au-Prince. The closer they got to the capital, the more obvious the devastation became. Panken said Stone-Sapp shared the horror of seeing “body after body in the street, covered in white linen.”
Stone-Sapp’s group went to the American embassy to help run a medical clinic, where the teen did everything from running errands for doctors to helping find food. After several days, he and his fellow volunteers returned to the United States on a U.S. military airplane.
Charlot, a designer, pattern-maker, and business owner, immigrated to the United States in 1994. After hearing news of the earthquake, she tried to reach family members — including her siblings and father — without success. Several days later she learned they all survived, although her father had been injured in the collapse of his home.
Charlot’s family has been housing and feeding other victims on their property, and she has been working to send tents, sleeping bags, pain relievers, and other supplies to them.
“It is hard to imagine a child experiencing such horrors,” Panken said. She was especially touched when Charlot spoke of her seven-year-old niece who asked to come join her aunt in the United States because her school was destroyed and all her friends had been killed.