Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chabad, Thai princess memorialize tsunami victims

CAPTION: Chabad of Thailand's chief rabbi, Yosef Kantor, presents Thai Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya with a silver menorah during Chabad's Tsunami memorial ceremony in Bangkok. Credit: Courtesy of Chabad of Thailand

By Tibor Krausz

BANGKOK, Jan. 18 (JTA) -- A member of the Thai royalty joined Bangkok's handful of resident Chasidic Jews at a recent event memorializing the victims of the 2004 tsunami.

And although they may not have understood the words of the prayer said by the Chabad rabbi at the event, millions of Thais were privy to the historic encounter between and Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya because all four national television channels broadcast the event taking place in the Shangri-La Hotel.

At the Dec. 18 event, Chabad of Thailand chief rabbi Yosef Kantor recited a rarely used blessing that thanks God for bestowing grandeur on a royal.

Seated on a golden chair inside an enclosure made with bamboo shards, an exquisite flower arrangement laid at her feet, Ubolratana sat facing members of Thailand's 250-strong resident Jewish community -- entrepreneurs, lawyers, consultants -- and watched a short documentary playing on a projection screen, detailing Chabad's myriad aid and reconstruction projects for tsunami victims in Thailand's south.

The princess then viewed a photo exhibit, ``A World of Good: Compassion in the Wake of the Tsunami."

She saw snapshots of Jewish volunteers handing out sacks of rice to impoverished locals in tsunami-ravaged villages on far-flung islands in the Andaman Sea; of young Chabad emissaries on three-month stints from New York helping rebuild homesteads in the devastated fishing community of Baan Naam Khem village;
of hundreds of Thai children whizzing down slides, cavorting around bouncy castles, and receiving their share of the 2 tons of toys Chabad collected during a massive toy drive in Jewish schools across North America and distributed to young tsunami survivors at a daylong event in Phuket in May.

``We received feedback that Her Highness had appreciated the toy fest," Kantor said, ``and I was made to understand that if I'd invited the princess, she would graciously accept."

Ubolratana is the eldest daughter of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, and her presence lent an aura of majesty to Chabad of Thailand's ``Tsunami Yizkor: Remember, React, Rebuild" memorial event. More so than in other monarchies, the royal family in Thailand is revered: Portraits of the king and queen adorn nearly every home and office in the country.

The event served to remember the thousands of people, including 18 Jews, who perished in southern Thailand in the Dec. 26, 2004, tidal wave.

Kantor presented her with a silver menorah, made by a craftsman in Israel in the diagonal style of Second Temple candelabras.

The princess ``asked me how many synagogues we have in Thailand and was surprised to hear we have six -- three in Bangkok, and one each in Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Phuket,'' Kantor, 36, says, recalling an exchange he had with the princess as he joined her entourage in escorting her back to her motorcade.

Chabad's memorial event served to remember the thousands of people, including 18 Jews, who perished in southern Thailand in the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami.

Ubolratana's son, Bhumi Jensen, was one of the victims. The 18-year-old American-born prince, known affectionately by Thais as Khun Poom, had just finished riding his jet ski at Khao Lak Beach when the giant waves crashed ashore, drowning bathers and obliterating seaside communities for over a mile inland.

Posted: 1/23/2006

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