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As bushfires raged in the Australian state of Victoria, the state's Jewish community launched a massive relief campaign, supplying food and clothing, making monetary donations and offering to host hundreds of residents who have lost their homes.
While watching the news on Sunday night, Michael Spektor and Glynis and Emma Lipson decided they had to do something to help the victims of the bushfires.They sent e-mails, made telephone calls and organized an event on Facebook called "Donation for Fire Relief," appealing for contributions of food and clothing from Victoria's Jews.
"This isn't our [Jewish] community, but they're our fellow Victorians," explained Spektor, who is using his cafe as a drop-off point for supplies to be sent to victims.
"To say that it's a situation of total devastation is putting it mildly," said Glynis Lipson, who is co-president of the Victoria branch of Magen David Adom (MDA).
"The response of the Jewish community has been amazing," she added. "In addition to personal donations, pharmacies and supermarkets have donated baby milk powder, soap, diapers, shampoo, conditioner - everything. These people have nothing except the clothes on their backs."
Lipson's daughter Emma, also active in MDA, was surprised by the extent of the donations they had received since first putting out the call on Sunday night.
"At two of our drop-off points, the homeowners could not enter their houses because of the mountain of supplies that people had dropped off," she said.
Spektor and the Lipsons are working with the Salvation Army to deliver the material to the disaster areas.
"We are collecting, sorting and packaging the supplies, and passing them off to the Salvation Army for distribution," explained Emma.
The areas hardest hit by the bushfires do not have large Jewish communities.
Nevertheless, Marysville, one of the cities that have been devastated, has been a popular Pessah destination for religious Jews from Melbourne. It has been cordoned off by police, who were still removing bodies from the streets.
According to Emma Lipson, Jews who have frequented Marysville's vacation spots have called up and offered to host city residents who lost their homes. She added that the state branch of MDA had never before waged a relief campaign of this proportion.
"Nothing like this has ever happened here," she said. "This has really affected the people of Victoria."
Jewish community support for the relief effort, however, has not been limited to Victoria.
"We have received truckloads of donations from as far away as Canberra and Sydney," Glynis Lipson said.
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) has partnered with Magen David Adom and Jewish Aid Australia to provide "practical and spiritual help" to victims of the bushfires, according to a press release.
"It is impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster that has struck Victorian families, so quickly and so brutally," said John Searle, JCCV president, in Monday's statement.
"It is equally difficult to understand the courage and fortitude shown by emergency services and ordinary people alike. Yet now is not a time for reflection. Rather, it is a time to provide practical and spiritual solace and this is what we are requesting of our community."
JCCV has asked for donations of food and clothing to be sent to MDA, and monetary donations to Jewish Aid Australia.
Other Jewish organizations participating in the relief efforts include B'nai B'rith, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, the Union for Progressive Judaism, Shira Hadasha, the National Council of Jewish Women, Mazon, Jewish Emergency Management Plan (JEMP), Jewish Care and jewishaustralia.com.
In addition, during a Tu Bishvat telethon on Sunday, the Jewish National Fund offered members of the Jewish community the opportunity to donate trees to be planted in areas devastated by the bushfires.
AP contributed to this report.