Displaced Australians Offered Shelter as Bushfires Rage On

SYDNEY (Chabad.org) -
In this photo provided by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, smoke rises from a wildfire near Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia, Wednesday. (AP Photo/NSW Rural Fire Service)
In this photo provided by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, smoke rises from a wildfire near Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia, Wednesday. (AP Photo/NSW Rural Fire Service)

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 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 (11 square miles), 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,” reported Yossi Schapiro. “We are hosting him at the Chabad House campus, which includes a spacious retreat center.”

Concurrently, Our Big Kitchen, a Chabad charitable operation in the Yeshiva Center 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.

Meteorologists are worried 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.