New year, old problems

January 13, 2021 by Rachel Phillips
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For Sydney’s Jewish House starting, 2021 felt like a new beginning – and it was.

Rabbi Mendel Kastel at NSW Police Operations Centre

However, it was not the beginning that it had hoped for.  It was the beginning of new challenges for Jewish House and CEO, Rabbi Mendel Kastel who works with crises every day, presented with new problems through the quarantine requirements in NSW for all returnees and newcomers to NSW.

The problem started last Pesach, in 2020 when Jews in quarantine lock-down had no access to Kosher l’Pesach food. Rabbi Kastel worked closely with the Government to deliver Passover seder boxes which was very much appreciated by people in physical isolation unable to access these essential festival foods.

It was unclear to families and young people in quarantine how they would make Pesach as they could not bring things into the hotels.  After much negotiating, Rabbi advocated for many families to get the support they needed providing them with mental health counselling and in many cases, emotional and practical support.

Rabbi Kastel, a chaplain for the NSW Police Force, wore his police uniform and appropriate health and safety masks to gain entrance to the hotels to make the deliveries, with security high during these times to contain the spread of the virus.

Rabbi Kastel had the opportunity just after New Years Eve weeks ago to visit The Police Operations Centre and met with some of the front line officers who he has been working with over the past year.

Rabbi Kastel told J-Wire:  “They are brave, dedicated people who should be commended.

We worked closely with the Government in these cases, and after a few months, the Government created a policy to provide extra support for religious diets.

I want to express my appreciation and offer a vote to the Minister of Health, the Treasury, Walt Secord, and many others who were always willing to help and advocate on our behalf.  This has been a very challenging time for all of us working with the Government to balance the individuals’ needs with the community’s safety.

We have dealt with people who had contracted Covid and needed to be in a unique health hotel. We have countless people who were here from interstate who needed further assistance. Of course, some came back to see dying relatives whom we advocated and supported through funerals and grief. We were proactive in preparing travellers for quarantine and safety before they arrived in NSW.  There were people with special needs that needed to be facilitated.  Besides the enormous mental health concerns, there were people with physical disabilities that needed to be cared for.”

With a spike in new cases of COVID-19 over the past six weeks, Jewish House continues to support the community navigate the impact of this pandemic into another year, working around the clock to deliver services including:

  • Resources and information via their COVID-19 online portal,
  • Coordinate food and daily living essentials to those in physical isolation,
  • Conducting numerous telehealth psychology and counselling sessions to vulnerable people in physical isolation,
  • Support parents and carers at home with children during school holidays with JH Kids online resources and activities,
  • Providing those in mandatory hotel quarantine with access to kosher foods and mental health support,
  • Accommodating up to 80 people per night with nowhere else to sleep,
  • Helping job-seekers navigate the journey to reemployment with their Avodah Jobs Program,
  • and operating their 24/7 crisis call line, supporting people when at any time – day or night.


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