A report from Toowoomba – Torahs Moved in Brisbane

January 12, 2011 by Henry Benjamin
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For Howard Rother and his family, the Queensland floods will have a devastating affect on his crops…but his family is safe. In Brisbane, around twelve families of the community have been evacuated from their homes.


The Rothberg farm under water


50-yr-old Howard Rother grows cotton and grain on his 500 hectacre farm 80kms west of Toowoomba at Cecil Plains on Queensland’s Darling Downs. The property is 80% under water and the family was trapped for three days. “We had plenty of food in reserve so we did not feel in danger. But this is unprecedented. In the almost 40 years we have lived up here, I have never seen anything like it.”


Howard Rothberg sent us this shot of Toowoomba taken near the town centre


But the Rothers also have a home in Toowoomba itself. Rother, born in Seattle, told J-Wire: “We will not know until the waters abate the full extent of the catastrophe….the scale is yet to be revealed.  But people have told me how they have seen cars floating on the  water with people clinging on and no-one know what has happened to them.”

They have been in touch with the Jewish community through Rabbi Levi Jaffe. He added: “My wife Rosa took my daughter  13-yr-old Shaina to Betar camp in Melbourne and on her way home could not get out of Brisbane. My 20-yr-old son Jamie was scheduled to be a madrich at the camp but he is stuck here with me and can’t get down. I was supposed to take my other daughter Ariella to Brisbane to join the others at the camp but she cannot get out of Toowoomba and is also stuck here with me. We have food and water so we no option other than having to sit here and wait it out.  .

Rother said that he has no insurance cover against floods…but he has had also had to face droughts and severe hailstorms in the 40 years he has lived in the area. He added: “One silver lining is that the sub-soil will be inundated.  We can work our way through this.” About two weeks ago we experienced the flood on the farm and this week on Monday the flood in Toowoomba so we have taken experienced two major floodings. Our home in Toowoomba is high up so we are well away from where all the damage has taken place. The floodings really started for us at the beginning of December when we usually cultivate and plant…so for six weeks we haven’t done a thing. Our home is high up on our property so we are safe here although most of our property has been affected by the floods”

In the meantime, the road between Brisbane and Toowoomba has been completely washed away. Rother feels it may be weeks before it is totally repaired.

In Brisbane, flood waters continue to rise and the Torahs have been moved from the ark in the Brisbane Synagogue to high ground in the synaggogue hall. Services have been rescheduled to the Carindale home of Rabbi Levi Jaffe. In a prepared statement, Rabbi Jaffe said: “We urge all those who are able to join us for prayer services over Shabbat as we will be including soecial prayersa for all fellow citizens who are in distress.

Jason Steinberg, president of the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies said: “The devastation and destruction caused by the floods in Queensland has shocked everyone. The impact of the floods has been felt across the community and it is now evident that some Jewish people have been affected. To what extent, we are unsure at this time.

The Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies Inc. (QJBD) is very grateful for the work of Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia who have been in regular contact with Jewish people in flooded areas.

Over the next few days, and as Brisbane experiences more significant flooding, the QJBD, together with Queensland Jewish Community Services and the Jewish Help in Need Society seek your assistance with the following:

1. If you know of any Jewish people who are need of assistance as a result of the floods, please contact the Queensland Jewish Community Services and the Jewish Help in Need Society – Ari Heber (Mobile 0423 194 737)

2. If you do have furniture, household products, Judaica, books, or anything else you wish to donate to a Jewish family in need, please contact Ari via email.

Please note that until people’s needs are known Ari will hold a register of what is available and co-ordinate distribution at an appropriate time.

3. If you have any spare rooms for Jewish evacuees who need a temporary place to stay due to the floods, please contact Ari via email.


Back Row Serge Vieira, Tony Bilson and Rabbi Dovid Slavin


In addition, we encourage all members of the Jewish community to donate to various appeals such as the Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal.

Our community’s thoughts and prayers go to those who have lost loved-ones in the floods and those who have been impacted in any way.

In Sydney famed celebrity chef Tony Bilson visited Our Big Kitchen at the Yeshiva complex along with Serge Vieiri, a Portuguese-born French chef who holds a Michelin Guide red star. Together, they supervised children who were baking biscuits to be sent to the flooded areas. Executive Director Rabbi Dovid Slavin told J-Wire: “Our Big Kitchen is ready to send food to any member of any community in Queensland in need.”

The President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), Dr Danny Lamm, has called on Jewish Australians to give generously to assist victims of the recent floods in Queensland.  “At least ten people are known to have died in the floods and 90 people are currently reported as missing.  Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families”, Dr Lamm said. “The priority right now must be to find and rescue those who are missing.”

Queensland has been severely hit by the worst flooding in decades due to incessant rains since late November and 400,000 people are said to have been affected.  “The devastation and losses caused by the flood are estimated thus far at about $5 billion” Dr Lamm said.  “Some people in the Jewish community in Queensland have also been hit hard with property losses and interruptions to normal life.”

At this stage a dozen Jewish homes in Brisbane are being flooded and the main synagogue in the Brisbane CBD is under threat as water levels continue to rise”, the President of the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, Jason Steinberg, told the ECAJ Committee of Management.  “A complete recovery by Queensland is several years away at least”.

Dr Lamm has appealed to the Jewish community “to dig deep and support the recognised aid organisations such as the Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal, Queensland Jewish Community Services, the Jewish Help in Need Society – Ari Heber (Mobile 0423 194 737) – and the B’nai B’rith Foundation”.


One Response to “A report from Toowoomba – Torahs Moved in Brisbane”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    How typicaly Jewish; to see a silver lining in catastrophic circumstances.
    An inheritance handed down from their forefathers no doubt.

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