Alex and Fanny Chan in their chocolate shop,
Alex and Fanny Chan in their chocolate shop, Photo by Henry Benjamin
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Henry Benjamin
Alex Chan in Boon's Chocoloate Photo by Henry Benjamin

SYDNEY - As the devastating death toll continues to rise following last week’s Typhoon Haiyan that flattened areas of the Philippines, two Sydney-based siblings have reached out to the Jewish community for help.

Alex and Fanny Chan run a chocolate shop, Boon Chocolates - voted the best chocolate outlet in Sydney by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011 and touted by Time Out magazine as the only chocolate shop in the Harbor City offering an edible chocolate handbag.

But here’s the twist: although the owners were brought up as Catholics in the Philippines, their shop has been certified by the New South Wales Kashrut Authority since 2011, and has made an edible chocolate menorah as well as a Star of David with the words “Mazal tov” embossed underneath it.

In fact, Fanny Chan, a microbiologist and chemist who studied the trade in Belgium, and her brother Alex, a food technologist, are often seen praying at the main Chabad synagogue in Sydney. They’ve even visited the grave of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. Not once, but twice - their most recent visit coming just last month.

Now, they’re hoping that the biblical injunction of tzedakah - charity - will help their beleaguered countrymen and women, with up to two million Filipinos made homeless by the November 8 typhoon.

The death toll from the super-storm is feared to be in the region of 10,000, with some 22,000 still missing, according to the Red Cross.

“It’s very heartbreaking to see the images; people have not eaten for more than one week,” Fanny Chan told Haaretz. “We have cousins very close to the devastated area. Thank God their town wasn’t hit. My parents live in Manila; thank God it wasn’t hit by the worst typhoon ever.

“For the past week we’ve tried to raise as much funds as possible and they are very, very generous, but it’s not enough.” A hospital in Sydney donated $43,000 worth of medical supplies, she added.

“What we’ve learned from Chabad is that it’s not the amount you give, but how you can make a difference in one person’s life. There are many ways of being charitable, but what we want to achieve is the highest form of tzedakah,” she said. “It’s like our spiritual community. We feel at home with the Chabad community.”

Fanny said she and her brother go to the Chabad synagogue on festivals and sometimes on Shabbat. “We are always telling our friends and family about the Jewish community and how amazing you guys are.”

Although she said they have no plans to convert to Judaism, they are “happy to spread what the Jewish community is all about.”

In a November 14 email titled “The Jewish community has come to support our Filipino community,” Alex Chan wrote: “The phone has not stopped ringing and we have felt God’s embrace through the outpouring not only of sympathy but action. I have been inspired by one Jewish word, and it is called tzedakah.

“It is the act of giving, not out of pity and mercy but to give so that they can become their own spirit and to allow them to help other people in the same manner.”

He said Jewish Aid Australia offered its website to run an appeal for food, medical supplies, clothing and tents.

“On behalf of our Filipino community, we would like to thank the Jewish community for its support materially and spiritually through your prayers,” Alex Chan wrote.

Chabad of Sydney’s Rabbi Eli Feldman said the Chan siblings came to a Hanukkah party a couple of years ago.

“A mutual friend brought them,” he said. “We developed a friendship. They come to shul and to events. They’re beloved members of the community.

“They’re very spiritual people so they’re attracted to the spirituality of Judaism, and they’ve got a particular affinity to Chabad,” Feldman added. “Tzedakah is a very important part of their lives. They identify with giving charity and helping people in need.”