Chabad, other Jews are helping families of TWA crash victims

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NEW YORK — When representatives of Lubavitch-Chabad were rushed to the scene after TWA flight 800 burst into a fireball off New York, rumors flew that a Chabad delegation was on board.

There were no Chassids on the ill-fated flight, but offering relief in the wake of disaster seemed to be natural for Chabadniks.

"Instinctively, our staff all came out to help," said Rabbi Leib Baumgarten, director of Lubavitch of the Hamptons on Long Island.

Lubavitch representatives, who often aid in the aftermath of disasters, spent the night of July 17 at the East Moriches Coast Guard station helping rescue and recovery workers and overseeing proper handling of the victims' bodies. The crash killed all 230 people on board.

Baumgarten and Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Long Island, also provided eyewitness accounts to the media in the aftermath.

Meanwhile, Lubavitch volunteers helped comfort the victims' families and led them in prayers.

"While we can't explain why such a tragedy happened," Baumgarten said, "we can reach out to the families and offer strength and support."

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, a Reform rabbi and executive director of the American Jewish Congress' New York region, participated in an interfaith service held for victims' families. "What happens to one person anywhere affects all people everywhere," he said.

In addition, B'nai B'rith has established a fund to help the families of the victims. The organization's Disaster Relief Fund has donated an initial $10,000.

"As the world mourns this horrendous catastrophe, we hope that the cause of the crash is soon learned," said Tommy Baer, president of B'nai B'rith.

The CIA has reportedly asked Israel to help determine whether terrorists were involved in the explosion of the jet. The CIA has given Israel's foreign intelligence service, the Mossad, the list of passengers flying from Athens to New York in order to check whether any of the passengers had links to terror groups, the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported this week.

TWA flight 800 used to fly to Israel after stopping in Paris, though the Israeli leg was discontinued last January.