In deluged Brisbane, Jewish homes & Torah Scrolls evacuated

Australia's third-largest city hit by biggest deluge in decades, swamping neighborhoods and causing the evacuation of tens of thousands.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
January 13, 2011 10:51
2 minute read.
The town of Chinchilla in Queensland, Australia

Australia floods 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Members of the Jewish community of Brisbane, which has been hit by its worst deluge in decades, evacuated a local synagogue on Thursday in response to the flooding that has killed one person so far and forced tens of thousands to flee.

“The [Brisbane Hebrew Congregation] synagogue and city center weren’t directly impacted, but the Torah scrolls have been taken out and moved to the Chabad House elsewhere,” Rabbi Chanoch Sufrin said over the phone from Brisbane, the capital of the Australian territory of Queensland.

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By Thursday afternoon, the sun had come out for the first time in days, said Jason Steinberg, president of the Queensland Board of Jewish Deputies. But the waters of the Brisbane River, which runs through Australia’s third-largest city – located about 700 kilometers north of Sydney – had still not receded.

“It’s been a surreal 48 hours,” Steinberg said. “Our city has undergone untold devastation. The Jewish community is just now getting a picture of how impacted we are. We’re a relatively small Jewish community, but we’ve had about 30 Jewish homes evacuated. It’s currently got a dozen or so homes without power or isolated with families who can’t get out.”

About 4,000 Jews live in Queensland, most of them concentrated in Brisbane.

“The community has been around in Queensland since the 18th century, and we’re active in all parts of society,” said Steinberg. “We have doctors, lawyers, artists and musicians. We have two Orthodox synagogues, two progressive [ones] and a Jewish day school and kindergarten.”

The local Jewish group president expressed his gratitude toward Australian and world Jewry for offering assistance to his community and said it might be a while before evacuees were allowed to return.

“At the moment, the people who’ve been forced to evacuate have moved in [with] family and friends and won’t be able to go back to their homes before they are given the all-clear, because of the electrical damage,” he said. “Even though we have beautiful blue skies, it’ll take time for the water to recede. Once they get back, it will be very heart-wrenching to look at the damage that’s been caused to the homes they’ve worked hard to establish.”

Meanwhile, Sufrin was busy helping coordinate joint efforts by Jewish groups to help members of the community in need.

“We’re compiling a list on two fronts: We’re getting volunteers to open homes and give clothes, but we’re also compiling a list of people in need, businesses that have been evacuated,” he said.

Still, he added, “it’ll take time to get that started. Right now, we’re contacting people and just giving them moral support.”


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