120 Communities Participate in Chabad of Thailand's Toy Drive

by Rivka Chaya Berman - PHUKET, THAILAND

May 8, 2005

Ayelet Hematian and Chantal Keypour of Port Washington, New York, did not understand a word of the Thai pop tunes that pulsated through the air at Chabad of Thailand’s “World of Good” fun fair in Phuket today, May 8. But they did understand that the more than 700 children from Thailand’s Phang Nga and Khao Lak regions who bebopped in the fair’s roving karaoke vans had suffered horribly in the December tsunami disaster. Thanks to Chabad of Thailand’s efforts, Ayelet and Chantal were there as part of the effort to help

While Thai children clambered aboard a ferris wheel, screamed with delight on the mini-coasters, and had tiny flowers painted on their faces, the girls from New York assisted volunteers as they handed out games, balls, and dolls from 150 crates of toys donated by Jewish children from around the world. Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar and other local government officials were on hand for the festivities.

“We wanted to highlight the aspect of unbound care and concern that the world displayed after the tsunami. If we work together and increase in acts of kindness -- inspired by Divine morality -- we can each make a difference and change the world for the better,” said Rabbi Levi Shmotkin, a Chabad representative who helped organize the fair. “An event such as the fun fair where the kids can have a great time and receive their toys, as opposed to isolated handouts in their villages, is the perfect opportunity to showcase that idea to the world.”

Ayelet and Chantal, students at Chabad Academy of Science and the Humanities, Max and Ruth Schwartz Elementary School, were chosen to make the 17-hour journey from New York to Saphin Hin, a sunny seaside area near Phuket City Hall, because they exemplified the drive behind the toy-collection effort.

Aside from their status as top students, the girls display “sensitivity to recognizing and helping those in need and a warm and friendly personality,” according to school officials. Port Washington is also where Rabbi Shalom Paltiel, spiritual leader of Chabad of Port Washington, hosts the center for the American Friends of Thailand.

Port Washington was but one outpost for the outpouring of enthusiasm for Chabad of Thailand’s toy drive. Among the 120 communities who participated in the drive was one Daniella Seidl who opted to use her bat mitzvah celebration as an opportunity to collect toys. Fifth graders at Menachem Mendel Cheder in Seattle, WA, sold three types of cookies and collected $145 as their gift.

“The toy drive is a microcosm of the macrocosm we witnessed after the tsunami. The world came together to help one another proving that the human family is one,” said Rabbi Shmotkin. “Naturally, children wanted to help in a way they can relate to and therefore were very excited about the toy drive.”

To qualify to receive toys, Thai children had to have been affected by the tsunami. “Those who were displaced from their homes, lost a loved one, suffered physical or psychological harm, lost some of their possessions or any other type of loss were eligible,” said Rabbi Shmotkin. According to World Health Organization figures, Thailand suffered some 5,300 deaths, 8,400 injuries so it wasn’t hard to find kids deserving toys.

The plight of children in the aftermath of the tsunami was what ignited the toy drive in the first place, said Chabad’s representative in Thailand Rabbi Yosef C. Kantor. Shortly after the tsunami devastated Thailand’s coast, Rabbi Kantor walked along a Thai beach “What struck me most were the broken toys,” said Rabbi Kantor, a father of six children. You can give somebody back a house, but there is an accumulation that is lost. A wave came and took it all. I figured at the time, World Vision and Save the Children, the Red Cross and maybe the Thai government are going to give them a house. But what about those little toys for the kids that are lost? A little human touch.”

Aside from the toy drive, Chabad of Thailand has been tirelessly helping Thais recover from the disaster. They have offered micro-credit to locals who need funds but have no collateral. Chabad has sponsored fresh food relief, carpentry skill workshops, free transportation to relief centers for villagers affected by the tsunami. In the immediate aftermath of the tidal wave, Chabad even built bathroom facilities at a camp for displaced Thais.

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