Haaretz: Australia Jews mobilize to aid victims of wildfires
Jewish communities in Australia have rushed to aid victims of the wildfires that have devastated the southeast of the country for the past week. According to Jewish Aid Australia, the group coordinating the effort, eleven other local and national organizations have joined them in collecting money, food, and basic necessities for those affected by the blaze.
The fires, which the Australian government has estimated to have claimed over 200 lives so far, have been concentrated in the area surrounding Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria and Australia's second largest city. Over 900 homes have been destroyed, leaving 5,000 people homeless, according to the Victoria County Fire Service, which also claims some of the blazes may have been set intentionally.
Emma Lipson, one of the coordinators of Magen David Adom's relief effort in the area, says the response has been "overwhelming." Lipson publicized her relief effort through phone calls, emails, and a Facebook page, on which she posted a plea for "clothing, shoes, toys, linen, toiletries, and camping gear." MDA will pass donations on to the local branch of the Salvation Army, which distributes it to the fire victims. Lipson, who is working with her mother Glynis, co-President of Victoria's MDA branch, and Michael Spektor, co-owner of a local espresso bar that was used as a drop-off point for the donations to coordinate the aid effort, posted her gratitude on their Facebook page for the community's "amazing efforts and support". She claimed that "we have sent 40 boxes from yesterday's (February 9) drop-off alone to the Salvation army and...another truck full is on its way over!"
The Chabad-Lubavitch community of New South Wales is also working to aid fire victims, according to their website, Chabad.org. They have planned a community cook-in on February 19 at Our Big Kitchen in The Yeshiva Centre of Bondi, a suburb of Sydney. The Chabad community is also collecting blankets, clothes, and non-perishable food items for fire victims, and Saul Spigler, President of Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia, has been checking on those affected by the fire, including, he claims, at least one Jewish family.
The Rabbinical Council of Victoria is also involved in the fire relief effort, holding an "Evening of Prayer and Action" at Caulfield Hebrew Congregation on February 12. Jewish Aid was present to collect donations of food, clothing, and other necessities. Their President, Shlomo Kluwgant, extended his condolences on behalf of the community to the families of those killed in the fires. He also applauded the actions of rescue workers, who he said "have gone well beyond the call of duty to fight the fires and bravely face the elements in seeking to bring them under control?.
While there are few Jewish victims of the fires, one of the ravaged towns was a popular vacation spot for the area's Jewish population. Marysville, which housed the Cumberland resort, a common location of Pesach retreats, held a particular emotional significance for much of the Jewish community. According to the Jerusalem Post, some have even opened their homes to host displaced Marysville residents. Michael Spektor believes that the overwhelming response of the Jewish community stems from a feeling of kinship with the fire victims. "This isn't our [Jewish] community, but they're our fellow Victorians.