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A Phone Call Away

A family's generosity and the Nepal Chabad House have made it easier to find trekkers in distress

Recently, while at work, I received a call. The caller was talking for a few minutes in Hebrew before I could catch anything he said. Was he trying to sell me something? Was he from the insurance company, with which I’ve been fighting to get my money back? What was this? And then I heard something I recognized — the name of our dear friends’ daughter.

“Wait,” I said, as I lost my balance and went down with a plunk. “Can you speak to me in English?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Can you talk fast, please? Really fast?”

I soon came to understand that all was okay, and that the woman (let’s call her Shira) was fine. During the day, as Shira sent WhatsApp messages and everything become more clear, I grew more and more amazed by the power of a few to make an important difference.

Let me explain. Last year, Israeli Nadav Shoham was killed in a freak snowstorm that hit the upper section of the Annapurna trekking circuit in northern Nepal. Four Israelis were killed during the surprising and unusual weather pattern and blizzard conditions.

What has Nadav’s family done to preserve his memory? They evaluated the situation and came up with a solution to enable future Israelis (and hikers from around the world) to be in better contact with assistance, should the need arise; then, they paid for the implementation of their brilliant plan.

Now, when hikers come through Rabbi Chezki and Chani Lifshitz’s Chabad House in Kathmandu, they can receive satellite phones to take on their trek with them. When hikers receive the phones, they have to list two contact phone numbers and emails so that family back home can receive emails about their trek and know that they are safe along the way.

Phones handed out by Chabad of Nepal (Photo: Chabad.org/Nepal)
Phones handed out by Chabad of Nepal (Photo: Chabad.org/Nepal)

That’s exactly what Shira did a few days ago. She asked if she could put us down as a second contact, in addition to her parents, should the need arise.

Last week, I realized just how special this program is, and how brilliant Nadav’s family was for putting the program into place with the help of the Chabad house.

When Shira’s group went ahead and she had a choice to make at a fork in the road, she chose the wrong direction. After hiking for hours, and realizing she was at a much higher elevation than she knew they were supposed to be, she began to panic. Night was coming, and she was hopelessly lost and alone.

With the phone in her hand, she sent out an SOS that Rabbi Lifshitz received. And with her exact coordinates via the GPS on the phone, he was able to alert the rescue team to find Shira, and to reunite her with her group.

Then, from Nepal, he called her contacts to let us know that everything was all right. There was a chance that we would have received an email saying that Shira had activated her SOS, and he didn’t want all of us to worry. As Chani Lifshitz said in a recent interview that rang so true for me, “We also want to assure parents of trekkers that if they are ever worried about their children, we will now have a better way of accessing them.”

Brilliant.

“The phones,” Rebbetzin Lifshitz explained, “Let us know exactly where trekkers are when a tragedy hits.”

WhatsApping back and forth with Shira, I wrote to her, “When you finish this trek, you’ve got to tell Nadav’s family that they saved your life.”

While reading some of the press about the phones today, I saw the same sentiments from Rebbetzin Lifshitz. As she said, “We want the families of those who were so tragically killed last year to know that we will never forget their loved ones. This project will prevent more casualties.”

It is a special family that can rise from their own tragedy and find a way to implement services to prevent future problems…and it is certainly a special couple, like Rabbi Chezki and Chani Lifshitz, who spend their time monitoring where these hikers are and what they need; who alert safety personnel when someone is in trouble; and who call family around the world to tell them when tragedy has been averted.

These are people worth knowing and admiring. And this is certainly a program worth funding.

May Nadav’s name live on in this special project.

About the Author
Romi Sussman is a teacher and writer. When she's not at her computer, she's juggling raising six boys ages 8-19 and conquering daily life as an Olah. She enjoys blogging here, at Kveller and on her personal blog at http://aineretzacheret.com.
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