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A Trip to Haiti

A Trip to Haiti

Opening hearts and wallets for Haitians.

by Steve Lipman

At a Jewish Y on Long Island, Jewish employees take up a collection for the families in Haiti of two maintenance men. In Brooklyn, members of the Orthodox community hold a historic meeting with representatives of the borough’s Haitian-Americans. In southern Florida, a former New Yorker travels to Haiti on short notice to help the relatives of his Haitian-born employees.

Since a devastating 7.0 tremor rocked the Caribbean island last week, leveling much of the capital and taking a total of lives that may exceed 100,000, a cross-section of Jewish institutions and Jewish individuals have offered their financial and moral support to residents of the already indigent nation. Help has come in prayers and hugs, sermons and fundraisers.

Opening their wallets and hearts, Jews have reached out to strangers in Haiti and to fellow New Yorkers of Haitian descent.

“Jews understand what it is to experience suffering,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive director of the New York Board of Rabbis, which is arranging new partnerships between local synagogues and Haitian houses of worship.

Many Jewish organizations — including the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the National Council of Young Israel, and Agudath Israel of America — advised members about worthy charitable recipients spearheading the relief effort.

In Brooklyn, Jewish community leaders, many representing the Orthodox community, met with local elected officials who represent the largest Haitian community in the United States outside of Florida. The Jewish leaders presented the Haitians with satellite phones and computers for contacting relatives in Haiti.

Marc Eisenmann, a Manhattan native who for six years has lived in Florida, where he owns an assisted-living facility, decided to go to Haiti the morning after the earthquake struck.

A veteran member of the Hatzolah emergency ambulance service, he planned to lend his medical expertise and find the relatives of his facility’s many Haitian employees.

With no prior contacts in Haiti, with a bagful of kosher challah rolls, accompanied by a Haitian-born staff member, he flew, on a one-way ticket, to the neighboring Dominican Republic, planning to stay until early this week.

The pair found a ride to the border, in a four-hour drive, in the back of an ambulance. Using his “street smarts,” he talked his way across the border, paid a Haitian guide $350 for the hour’s ride to Port-au-Prince, found a room in a still-intact hotel occupied by CNN employees and volunteered to rescue trapped people around the city. He pulled people out of buildings, perilously crawled under collapsed structures and offered basic first aid to the injured as well as comfort to parents whose children were beyond help.

“You have to have a heart. There’s nothing worse than apathy.”

Then Eisenmann met Gancci Saintellus, the 5-year-old son of his hotel’s desk clerk. The child’s arm was mangled; gangrene was setting in. He needed advanced medical care or would die within half a day.

Eisesmann heard that some planes were leaving the Port-au-Prince airport. At the airport, on the tarmac, hoping to get Gancci on a plane going somewhere where proper treatment was available, he talked himself, the child and the child’s father, Olgan, onto an empty Sky King Airlines 373 bound for Miami. The Saintelluses had no passports, no credentials for entering the U.S.

En route, the pilot arranged for an ambulance to meet the plane at the airport. Eisenmann, dressed in EMS garb, throwing out medical terms, convinced immigration authorities to let father and son enter the country.

Gannci’s right arm was amputated two hours later at Holtz Children’s Hospital, but he’s alive.

Eisenmann, who had slept three hours during the previous two days, caught a few hours of rest at home, then returned to the hospital, accompanied by one of his children, to visit the recuperating youngster on Friday, before Shabbat.

Now, Eisenmann, who is active in Hollywood’s Orthodox community and whose children attend the city’s Brauser Maimonides Academy day school, is working to bring the rest of the Saintellus family — mother and two daughters, all Mormons — to Miami. When the child is discharged from the hospital, he and his father will stay with the Eisenmanns.

Was Eisenmann scared at anytime during his time in Haiti?

“I questioned my sanity,” he answers.

But, Eisenmann adds, he felt he had no choice. “You have to have a heart,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than apathy.”

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week.

January 21, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 9

(9) Mireille, January 28, 2010 2:49 PM

While doing a research for my religion class, I took a moment to read the article. I would like to say a special thanks to Mr. Eisenmann in the name of our Haitian people. May God continue to bless the Juif people as He always did. I can't end without saying how choc and happy I was when I saw that Israel had everything ready to help the Haitian people just day after the quake. God bless you!

(8) Beverly Kurtin, January 25, 2010 6:25 PM


When I heard the news that the Israelis had set up a fully operational hospital within hours of arriving in Haiti, I let out a whoop of joy that only another Texan could understand. We beat the American forces to the punch; we understood fully the need for FAST action to prevent those who were horribly injured from dying. One of the news commentators (unfortunately, real reporting has gone out the window) was working with others who were aiding in the rescue work. "Take these two to the Israeli hospital stat," one of them shouted. I kvelled like nobody's business. In the bright light of reality, it was shameful that an earthquake of 7 brought all the tragedy it did to Haiti. Greed, corruption and theft meant that nearly no building could take the force of the earth doing its thing. A former Californian, I've lived unscathed through stronger earthquakes. One quake I rode through was a 7.5, incredibly stronger than a 7, but in California the codes were observed and the buildings stood. Some pre-new code buildings did collapse as well as some freeways, but the injuries and deaths were, Baruch , minimal. Now that was in the Southland...LA, Orange County (Garden Grove)...amazingly enough, we all went to work that day as if nothing had happened. Had the Haitians observed the proper buildings, the horrendous damage they are now undergoing might have been mitigated. But, alas, those poor folks need an outpouring of love and money as never before. I'm happy to read that some countries are cancelling the debt that Hatti. Most Haitians with whom I have come in contact are really neat folks; I like them. I wish them well and that we will all dig deeply into our wallets or purses and help those people.

(7) Anonymous, January 24, 2010 9:54 PM


Marc Eisenmann is amazing! He is an inspiration to say the least! I am in awe of what he has done! Baruch Hashem for creating such a soul! I could never come close to his courage and bravery, but I can try each day to open my heart & my mind to what "really" matters - the people around me whether I know them or not - to be aware, alive, kind, helpful, compassionate, available, patient, and steadfast. THANK YOU for sharing the story of this extraordinary man! And THANK YOU Marc Eisenmann for reminding me of what it means to be human and for giving me HOPE!

(6) Anonymous, January 24, 2010 6:20 PM


(5) David S. Levine, January 24, 2010 5:46 PM


As i read this story and the stories about how both American Jews as individuals and part of the Jewish community are helping Haiti and how the Israelis, right away, sent a medical facility to Haiti complete with personnel my pride in being Jewish is reinvigorated.

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