SYDNEY — Australian Jewish groups are providing shelter, meals and psychological counseling for victims of the wild bushfires ravaging Australia.
The bushfires, which began last week, have forced members of the Jewish community to evacuate their homes.
David Lake lost his home Monday at the Blue Mountains, one hour’s drive west of Sydney, and fled. He managed to save a kiddush cup and a mezuzah.
“All my possessions were incinerated,” said Lake, a Sephardic Jew. “It’s difficult and emotionally traumatizing.
“The kiddush cup was completely blackened but I managed to restore it — it’s still usable,” he said. “Isn’t that wonderful?”
Lake has been living since Tuesday at a Chabad house in Sydney, which has 40 rooms available, along with a handful of other Jewish evacuees, thanks to the relief efforts of Rabbi Yossi Schapiro, a representative of Chabad of RARA, or Rural and Regional Australia.
“He’s going to be here for a while and we’ll host him for as long as he needs,” the rabbi said. “He is devastated; any person would be devastated.”
Our Big Kitchen, a Chabad-run community kitchen in Bondi, staged a cook-athon on Tuesday, preparing more than 1,000 meals for distribution to victims and firefighters.
“We pray that God Almighty has mercy and brings a swift end to this terrible catastrophe, comforts the bereaved and heals the wounded,” said Pinchus Feldman, the chief rabbi of Chabad in Sydney.
The Jewish House, a crisis center, is offering psychological help, as well as shelter for those with pets.
“We’re in touch with 25 families,” said the center’s CEO, Rabbi Mendel Kastel. “Most are all packed up and ready to run if they need to.”
Jewish Aid Australia launched an appeal this week.
“Like all Australians, the Jewish community is deeply concerned by the devastation left in the fires’ wake,” said Jewish Aid Australia CEO Gary Samowitz.
The fires reportedly were sparked by explosives training on army land in the area. More than 200 homes have burned down from the approximately 30 wild fires, fueled by the hot, dry summer weather.
Bush fires are akin to Australia’s frontline war. In 2009, bushfires killed more than 170 people and destroyed 150 homes in Victoria, the worst blaze in Australian history.