As bushfires continue to blaze across Australia’s Blue Mountains in what may become the worst conflagration in the area’s history, Chabad organizations in nearby Sydney are springing into action.
“We have opened our Chabad center to people in need of a temporary home,” says Rabbi Nochum Schapiro of Chabad North Shore, which is based in St. Ives, a suburb on the Upper North Shore of Sydney in the state of New South Wales. “We have 40 bedrooms (each with bathrooms) ready and available to accommodate those in need.”
Relief efforts are being coordinated by Schapiro’s son, Yossi, who became familiar with the Blue Mountain region while visiting the area’s Jewish residents as a representative of Chabad of RARA (Rural and Regional Australia).
The fires, which have consumed more than 3,000 hectares of land, are located less than an hour’s drive to the west of Sydney.
“I started calling people I knew to see if they were OK. I spoke to one man from Springwood. He told me his house had burnt down, and he had nothing left but a few plastic bags of personal items,” reports Yossi Schapiro, coordinator of Chabad North Shore Bushfire Relief. “We are hosting him at the Chabad House campus, which includes a spacious retreat center.”
Schapiro then went on to contact 70 families on the Chabad of RARA database. He also collaborated with the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Israeli Embassy and the smaller Jewish communities in the affected areas to get through to as many people as possible.
Since opening their doors to assist in the wake of the fires, the Chabad center has become a temporary home to others as well, including a woman with two school-age daughters who was evacuated from Katoomba. She tearfully told Shapiro, “You don’t know how much this means to me!”
David Lake holding a kiddush cup, one of the few posessions he salvaged from his Springwood home before it burnt.
Concurrently, Our Big Kitchen, a Chabad charitable operation in the Yeshiva Centre in Bondi—a suburb of Sydney—has been holding “cookathons,” where volunteers prepare vital foodstuffs for people in need. On Tuesday, 500 meals were cooked and sent to the local Springwood Sports Club for distribution. Another cookathon is scheduled for Wednesday evening.
Just up the street, a crisis center called The Jewish House is ready to offer psychological help, as well as housing assistance for those having a hard time finding shelter that can accommodate pets.
Schapiro reports that a veterinarian will soon be assessing the North Shore Chabad center to see if is feasible to create some proper housing for pets. Alternatively, volunteer families have lined up to adopt displaced pets for the short term.
Meteorologists predict that rising summer temperatures may cause three of the major fires to become one megablaze. New South Wales has experienced the warmest September and warmest 12 months on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Schapiro says the next 24 hours will be crucial in determining where the disaster is headed and how residents will be affected.
“They are OK for now,” he notes, “but were very thankful to know that we are thinking of them and are there for them if they need anything.”
Organizers ask those who want to help to visit: www.ChabadHouse.org.au/Relief
Evacuated from their Katoomba home, the Moria family is now staying at Chabad North Shore.