Friday, April 11, 2008

Jews rally to help in search

The Jewish community from throughout the world has rallied behind the mounting search for missing Israeli backpacker Liat Okin, last seen on the Routeburn Track more than two weeks ago.

Two Christchurch-based New York rabbis from the international Jewish outreach group Chabad-Lubavitch were contacted by the parents of the missing 35-year-old Israeli social worker on Tuesday, just as the pair were about to fly to Queenstown after hearing of her disappearance.

Chabad New Zealand director Rabbi Mendel Goldstein said offers had flooded in from Israeli backpackers who have served in the infantry, and the New Zealand Jewish community, to help in the search.

Rabbi Goldstein and his assistant Oren Raz flew over the search area on Thursday witnessing first-hand the rugged terrain confronting searchers.

A copy of a Southland Times story given to them yesterday, recounting the miracle survival and rescue of two Israeli tourists off the Routeburn Track in 1987, was like an answered prayer to Rabbi Goldstein.

Udi and Nitzan Milo survived on a 2m by 3m ledge for five freezing nights below Emily Pass, where searchers have been looking for Ms Okin.

The Milos had fallen and fortuitously landed on the tiny ledge above an 80m waterfall. In desperation they flashed a mirror and Invercargill man Stuart Ryder noticed a flickering light from the Routeburn Falls Hut, raising the alarm.

In 1997 the pair flew back to Queenstown to thank their hero, rescue pilot the late Dennis Egerton.

"This story is just so inspiring — this is exactly what we've been envisioning," Rabbi Goldstein said.

"We keep telling her (Ms Okin's) parents what Grand Rabbi Menachem Schneerson has always urged us in such times as this, to think good and it will be good, remain positive and keep believing," Rabbi Goldstein said.

"She has been missing longer but not necessarily lost longer in her mind. She was very adventurous and fluid in terms of her plans," he said.

Ms Okin was renowned for her enormous willpower.

"Family and friends say she would never, absolutely never, give up," Rabbi Goldstein said.

Rabbi Goldstein said funding had been approved by the Sydney base of Chabad for extra search helicopters if required.

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