Wild bushfires ravaging Australia forced members of the Jewish community to evacuate their homes, some of which already have been destroyed by flames since the fires broke out Wednesday a week ago due to explosives used in army exercises.
David Lake, a traditional Sephardi Jew lost his home in the blaze at the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and was able to flee with almost no possession except a Kiddush cup and a mezuzah.
“All my possessions were incinerated,” Lake said. “It’s difficult and emotionally traumatizing.
“The Kiddush cup was completely blackened but I managed to restore it – it’s still useable,” he added. He said the mezuzah on the archway in front of his door was “still intact,” but others lying in the ashes were totally destroyed.
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.
Other Jewish groups rallied to help the victims this week.
Our Big Kitchen, a Chabad-run community kitchen in Bondi, staged a cook-a-thon 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.
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.
Two people have been killed, the latest being a pilot whose water bomber plane crashed in rugged country on the southern coast of Australia. The crash sparked another fire, one of more than 50 are burning across the state of New South Wales.
More than 200 homes have been destroyed, and one man died from a heart attack while trying to save his home.