A rabbi visits Thursday Island

July 10, 2019 by Henry Benjamin
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Sydney’s Rabbi Mendel Kastel has visited Thursday Island in his capacity as Mental Health Commissioner.

Rabbi Mendel Kastel

He told J-Wire: “Part of what we do is to engage with local communities to learn more about them and to advise the Minister for Health and the Prime Minister of our findings.

He has also been involved with a new project “Connections” to assess what mental health may be like in 2030 and so he took this opportunity to meet with the local health and social workers as well as community leaders.

He added: “Hospitals have always been an interest of mine so I toured the local one on the island. This trip gave  me an opportunity to learn about the Torres Straits culture.”

Rabbi Kastel has brought a wealth of experience to the Mental Health Commission. He is a service provdder in the community. Sydney’s Jewish House is a non-health organisation servicing homelessness mental health and drug and alcohol cases amongst others. Rabbi Kastel can add to the list the enormous experience he has hadin his pastoral work.

Rabbi Kastel had little knowledge about Jewish presence over the past years on Thirsday Island. But he smiled when he recounted  an incident on the plane heading north when a member of his party asked what he was wearing his head. “I told him it was a kippah and he asked me to spell it. He delighted as now he the answer to a clude on the crossword he was doing…a Jewish cap [six letters]!”

He told J-Wire that he had been told that there had been a Jewish doctor and a Jewish journalist living at one time on the island.

“There is a strong Christian base in the community but I don’t think anyone had seen a rabbi,” he added.

Rabbi Kastel has also been providing help to an Aboriginal community in Alice Springs.

He explains: “There was a call out on Facebook for blankets for this community. We were approached by a company who had so  many blankets and socks they wished to donate that we had enoug for Alice Springs and also to the community in La Perouse in Sydney. And now we are sending blankets to an Aboriginal community in Moree in Northern NSW.

It was a fitting gesture for NAIDOC Week which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

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