A six-person Israeli advance team headed on Sunday evening to the Philippines to aid survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which on Friday killed at least 10,000 and left more than 600,000 homeless.

The team – experts the fields of search, rescue and medicine – includes four members of the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command and two from the Foreign Ministry. They are determining what is needed before sending a larger contingent.

Israel has a large Filipino community; according to media reports, many were alarmed at being unable to reach friends and relatives in their native country. A number of Israelis currently in the Philippines are among an estimated 800,000 people reported missing.

“On behalf of the Government and people of Israel, I extend heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives as the result of the horrific typhoon, and I send best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a letter sent to Philippine President Benigno Aquino. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you and the Filipino people at this difficult time.”

The tiny State of Israel is known for taking the lead in the face of natural disaster. For instance, its 200-strong relief team was the first to respond to the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, bringing state-of-the-art resources to the scene and saving thousands of lives. In fact, as published in Ha’aretz later that month, former US President Bill Clinton had stated:

“I don’t know what we would have done without the Israeli hospital in Haiti. The Israeli [makeshift] hospital was the only operational facility which was able to perform surgery and advanced tests.”

The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid (IsraAID), an Israel-based umbrella organization consisting of Jewish and Israeli groups that provide aid worldwide to people in need, also sent a team of seven medical professionals to the Philippines and will assess the situation before sending further assistance, including trauma and child-protection professionals.

“We’ll wait to get a better understanding of the situation to decide just how many people to add,” IsraeAid founding director Shahar Zahavi told the press. ““People don’t have any more health facilities, so our first goal is health intervention.

“After the immediate medical issues are addressed, the next concerns are issues like the influx of people who have become homeless,” Zahavi said. “And in the days after, people start getting sick, and then there’s not enough food to go around. So the needs change as the process unfolds.”

Several countries and other Jewish humanitarian organizations worldwide, such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, had immediately collected aid for the Philippines disaster.

By: Atara Beck, United with Israel