Dramatic Shabbos Rescue for St. Martin Shluchim

ZAKA volunteers, together with representatives from Israel, New York and Holland, worked throughout Shabbos in a multi-national WhatsApp rescue operation. The mission – to arrange the rescue of the wife and children of the Chabad emissary, stranded in treacherous conditions on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.

Rabbi Moishe Chanowitz, his wife Sara, and five children aged under 8, remained on the island to offer assistance to others during Hurricane Irma. However, as the winds picked up speed over Shabbat, the family left their home for Chabad House, situated on higher ground. In the pressure of the moment, they forgot that the building was undergoing renovation and therefore did not find a safe haven there.

This was a classic case of פיקוח נפש דוחה שבת – rescuing a life takes precedence over the rules of Shabbat.  The Rabbi contacted World Chabad in New York and the ZAKA Search and Rescue organization, requesting help in evacuating his family from an island whost sea and air routes were closed.

A dedicated WhatsApp group was opened to facilitate the trans-Atlantic rescue, including Chabad Headquarters’ Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein, ZAKA International Director David Rose, Zvi Gluck and David Kushnir from Amudim, Rabbi Isaac Lieder from Monsey and representatives from Israel’s National Emergency Management Authority, the Foreign Ministry, Israel Ambassador and the Military Attache in Holland and others.

After hours of searching for a private plane to rescue them, Rabbi Isaac Lieder did find an 8-seater plane willing to fly – however, the Dutch authorities in St. Martin refused landing permission on the island.

“In ZAKA, we never give up,” explains ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. “We reached out to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, however even the Israeli Ambassador and military attaché in Holland were unsuccessful in getting the necessary landing permission.”

The efforts continued and, after many hours of international activities, contact was made with the pilot of a plane bringing humanitarian aid into the area. He finally agreed to pick up the stranded family, and Sara boarded the plane with her five children and were flown to Puerto Rico. The Chabad emissary decided to stay on the island to offer help to others.

A few hours later, ZAKA received another call for help – this time from a group of Jewish tourists, including medical students, from the USA and Canada who were stranded on the island and seeking shelter in St. Martin’s medical school. Contact was made with a US plane bringing humanitarian aid into the island and the group were rescued two hours before the end of Shabbat.


  • 1. Not sure if this accurate wrote:

    This is Zaka pr. But not the whole narrative, they BH managed to find a path out before Shabbos in St. Maarten and Zaka had nothing to do with it.

  • 3. #1. wrote:

    Are you Sure?

    On Friday, there were a few times they thought they might be getting out and then false rumors spreading that they were out…

    Either way, BH they made it out

  • 4. A family member wrote:

    B”h they got on a plane Before Shabbos, and made it safely to Peurto Rico.
    There were so many people who worked non stop, and never gave up hope, mainly Merkoz, the Caribbean Shluchim, Zaka, Shluchim from around the world.
    It’s a story of amazing Achdus!

    This story from crownheight.info is mostly incorrect.

  • 5. Question wrote:

    How come they (at least wife and kids) didn’t leave earlier? Most people were advised to evacuate well in advance of the storms arrival.

    • 6. Probably wrote:

      Probably because it’s time to start asking Rabbonim for advice like the Rebbe clearly said to do, rather than looking into the Igros.

    • 7. Milhouse wrote:

      Most people were advised to evacuate well in advance of the storms arrival.

      No, they weren’t. Where did you hear that they were? Who gave this supposed advice? The French administration, the Dutch one, or both? Or do you just mean random yentas gave unsolicited advice? Where were they supposed to go, anyway, and how were they supposed to get there?

  • 9. 2 # 6 wrote:

    Why is everyone trying to take credit for this poor family. Let them get the credit for being there rather than all those saying give me credit and remember to use such and such a title…….

  • 10. Baruch Hashem! wrote:

    Glad they are safe. What about the Shliach? And is ZAKA helping other residents on the island as well?


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