by Faygie Levy Holt – Chabad.org
While Jews around the world were counting the final days of Sefirat HaOmer—the 49 days from Passover to Shavuot—some residents of Tasmania, Australia, have been counting how far above flood stage their local rivers remain after days of intense flooding.
In what some are calling the worst flooding in decades, five people have lost their lives; roads and bridges have been washed out or severely impaired; farms are under water; and the damage is estimated to exceed $100 million.
Less than a mile from the flooding, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Yochanan and Rochel Gordon are doing what they can to help those in need.
“Thank G‑d, we are all fine. We are on higher ground, so the floods don’t affect us directly,” said the rabbi. “But we know quite a few who are. There are many areas that are completely immersed under water, with trees and power lines down. The city of Launceston recently upgraded the levies, and so they did their job keeping much of the floodwater at bay and preventing the entire industrial zone of the city from being immersed.”
Launceston sits at the base of the South Esk and North Esk rivers. Melting snow from the island’s mountains, coupled with heavy rainfall, has triggered the intense flooding.
An estimated 510,000 people live on the island of Tasmania, which lies 150 miles from the Australian coast, and is one of the six states in the Commonwealth of Australia. The small Jewish community numbers fewer than 500, and the Gordons, who direct Chabad of Tasmania since 2011, keep in contact with many of them.
“We helped people who needed to evacuate find places to go so they can stay out of the public shelters. And we called people we know in the area to confirm that everyone was OK,” reported Gordon. “We had a woman who needed to get to the hospital last night, and with many bridges and road closed, we had to find a route that was not flooded. A 20-minute ride to the hospital can now take an hour-and-a-half.
“And people whose businesses are under water need to wait until it goes down before the can to assess the damage,” he continued. As of Thursday, that seemed to be happening; the waters were subsiding.
Launceston isn’t the only area dealing with the situation. Gordon noted that the floods hit other towns as well, such as Longford, Latrobe and Evandale. “Other places where we know Jewish individuals were impacted,” he said, adding that “they have been contacted, and are safe and accounted for.”
Fortunately, the historic Launceston Synagogue on St. John’s Street, which is slated for renovation in the coming months, stands away from the flood zone and is not impacted by the water. Australia’s second-oldest synagogue and a heritage-listed building, it has recently been used again for services, bar mitzvahs and other events, prompted in large part by the presence of the Gordons.