Since the earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, there has been a constant stream of news about death, injury and destruction. There have been stories of looting, accusations of kidnapping and bureaucratic snafus.
But there have also been many stories of courage and generosity. There has been an international outpouring of money, supplies and people trying to help; although the tragedy is so great that even now the response has not met the need.
In Louisville, the Jewish community is continuing to help, raising money for both earthquake relief and a water purification project in the town of Ravin Sable through a project started by Keneseth Israel Congregation and Temple Shalom in conjunction with the organization, Hope for Haiti.
Sometimes disaster and the response to it has unintended positive results. In this case, the Hope for Haiti project has opened the door to cooperation between the Jewish community and a local predominantly Muslim group that promises to lead to additional communications between the two groups.
Dr. Muhammad Babar, a physician working at St. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital, part of the Jewish Hospital system, is the spokesman and treasurer for the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of Kentucky and Indiana (APPKI), an organization with more than 150 Muslim, Hindu and Christian members in Louisville, Elizabethtown and southern Indiana.
“We wanted to do something for Haiti,” Dr. Babar said, and the group soon collected more than $9,000. While APPKI tried to decide the best way to use the money to help the devastated nation, Dr. Babar spoke with Terry Taylor, the executive director of Interfaith Paths to Peace, who told him about Paul Rosenblum and the Jewish congregations’ Hope for Haiti project.
“We decided to work through them,” Dr. Babar said, “and to get to know members of our local community, too.” Following discussions with Rosenblum, the co-chair of the Hope for Haiti project, APPKI chose to give $5,176 of the money they raised to Hope for Haiti through the Jewish community and $4,000 to Supplies Overseas (SOS) and Edge Outreach. APPKI members also chose to participate more directly by helping pack medical relief items that were sent directly to Haiti.
APPKI plans to continue working closely with the Jewish community on Hope for Haiti. “Paul included me on his committee,” Dr. Babar said, “so he’s keeping me updated.” APPKI President Dr. Abdul Jabbar and President-Elect Dr. Asim Piracha are working on this project as well.
Rosenblum reports that as of February 9, $16,770 has been collected locally for Hope for Haiti. Additional fundraising for the group continues. The Jewish Community of Louisville’s annual Purim Matanot La’Evyonim (gifts for the poor) appeal will benefit this project this year.
Dr. Babar hopes the relationship between the groups will expand to other areas as well. Once a year, he explained, the two communities come together and are joined by Christians for the Festival of Faiths Children of Abraham Thanksgiving Dinner. He would like to expand that association by extending invitations “to each other’s events, and I’m hoping for a joint event, down the road, for both communities.”
“The folks in Haiti need a lot of help,” he said, recalling the 2006 earthquake that struck his country of birth, killing more than 80,000 people. “Then we sent more than $200,000 in items and donations. We know the pain and agony a community goes through because of a natural disaster.”
It is the acute needs of the Haitian community that has brought these two communities together, and, Dr. Babar pointed out, “our work there has not ended.”
As a result of that disaster, a door has opened in Louisville and a new friendship is beginning to blossom.
“I hope that our relationship and friendship goes a long way and becomes the first chapter of a journey desiring to bring peace and sanity on planet Earth,” Dr. Babar said.