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Israeli Backpacker Among Dead in Earthquake that Rocked New Zealand

An Israeli backpacker is believed to be among the 65 people killed in the earthquake that shook New Zealand, and the destruction in Christchurch on the country’s South Island included the city’s Chabad house.

Another Christchurch synagogue reportedly suffered damage but was not destroyed.

The Israeli, who was not immediately named by Israeli Embassy officials, was in a car with three other Israelis when a building collapsed on them during the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that ripped through the city around lunchtime on February 22, according to Rabbi Shmuel Friedman, a Chabad rabbi in Christchurch.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, the son of a Jewish refugee who escaped Europe to England on the eve of the Holocaust, said the quake could turn out to be his nation’s “darkest day.”

Israel offered to send food and medicine to help. With hundreds of Israeli backpackers visiting New Zealand each year, the Israeli foreign ministry said there could be up to 150 Israelis in Christchurch.

With phone lines down and power lines cut, communications have been limited. Wellington-based David Zwartz, a former president of the New Zealand Jewish Council, said he received a text message from Bettina Wallace, the immediate past president of Canterbury Hebrew Congregation, the main synagogue in the region.

The text message read: “Shul damaged but fixable.”

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