Pesach in Townsville

April 14, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
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An innocent game of  frisbee has brought Jake Altholz’s parents from the USA to the north Queensland city of Townsville where they will Seder tonight with members of the tiny local Jewish community. Jake was badly injured in a car accident last month and parents Reed and Elyse were at his bedside as he fought to recover from serious injury.


Jake Altholz

Jake Altholz

On March 17 , the 20-yr-old from Clark, New Jersey. was driving to a frisbee game in Townsville when traffic ahead of him slowed down and stopped because of an accident. Jay’s car was rear-ended by another car allegedly travelling at high speed causing Jake’s vehicle to torpedo into the car in front of it.

Jake was rushed to hospital where he was placed in an induced coma as medical teams worked on broken vertebrae and facial injuries so bad that reconstructive surgery was necessary.

Jake’s father Reed told J-Wire: “As a result of the head injuries, Jake had swelling and bleeding of the brain. We were at the other side of the world and decided we would not come to Australia until Jake was out of the coma. In the meantime we needed help and Chabad shone. Through Rabbi Pinny Super, RARA which stands for rural and regional Australia swung into action and we were introduced to George Koulakis who is involved in the Townsville Jewish community. He lives three hours of Townsville but he kept in touch with Jake’s progress and with us. We didn’t want to travel for thirty hours with no contact with the hospital. But we came as soon as we could”

Reed and Elyse

Reed and Elyse

Jake has had another operation to remove 15 staples from his head. He had been taking a break from his American studies and had been participating in the Global Links program which gives young students the opportunity to study abroad. Jake had been in Australia for five weeks and was scheduled to return home on June 21 but may not be able to fly.

Reed added: “The Chabad were wonderful. George and the local community were wonderful and the staff at the James Cook University were wonderful. There has been a positive  side to this experience.”

The family remains in Townsville as Jake faces further medical treatment.

But tonight they will sit with new friends  George and Kylie Koulakis, David Sassoon who Reed said “opened his home to us when we arrived”, Miriam Bougie,  Hilla Cohen and Molly Spector of AUJS….as they celebrate Jake’s continuing recovery and the unexpected experience of two Seders in Townsville.

Jake has posted on  his Facebook page how he is looking forward to an Australian Seder

“I am now almost 2 weeks post surgery. The miserable days immediately following surgery have (quite rapidly all things considered, though it definitely feels a little slower) turned into days of feeling pretty good and lively . I’ve walked around campus, gone to the mall, hung out with friends, played games, watched ultimate frisbee games from the sideline, had beautiful shabbos dinners, and even managed to stay awake for quite a few really long days without too much rest or pain or anything.

Kylie and George Koulakis

Kylie and George Koulakis

Every day brings something new. It is true that some days are better than others, but every day I feel a little better and every day brings me closer to my goal of achieving a full recovery. I am super pumped to get back to running, playing sports, and being able to do the things I normally do, and the doctors are optimistic that I should be able to resume almost full physical activity and things like flying and scuba diving within the next two months. I greatly await being healthy again, but know that I must take it one day and one step at a time.

For the time being, I do have limitations and restrictions, both imposed by doctors, and my nature (such as my ability to perform certain tasks). Unfortunately, among those two are eating and seeing. Due to the braces and some muscles needing to be rebuilt, I am still on a puree diet, which is absolutely awful  haha.

The real issue remains in seeing. Unfortunately, for the time being, I have a lazy eye. Baruch Hashem (thank G-d) I still have vision in my right eye, but it took muscle and potentially nerve damage in the accident. The ophthalmologist was optimistic that it will heal itself over time, but we wont be sure for the next 18 months. I am quite self-conscious about it, but the real issue is that it affects my functionality. I can’t see very well as both eyes are focusing on different things, and it effects my ability to do daily activities. I am determined to heal as fast as possible so I can get back to my life, but once again, I know I must be patient. I am confident it will heal.

The last thing is school. I am working with my professors and doctors to try and gradually re-enter classes and such next week. Will keep you updated.

If you are still reading this, thank you.

For all the Jews out there, I wish you the best passover ever. May you be brought out of Egypt both physically and spiritually. While it will be weird for me to not be able to keep passover the way I always have, I know that Hashem wants me to follow my doctors orders and do what it takes to get healthy (doesn’t help the mental anguish of eating chametz and not being able to even eat matzah on Pesach haha) I will be celebrating with you in spirit and am greatly looking forward to an Australian seder (turns out they use a kangaroo shank as opposed to lamb…)  Chag Sameach to all! (^just kidding)

To those who celebrate other Holidays, I hope that you have an incredible holiday, whether it be easter or something else. May they be filled with joy and good company.

To everyone, (I apologize for preaching) I have always believed this and thanked G-d (which ever one you believe in) every day for what I had. but it is true that you dont REALLY know what you have until it is almost gone. Every day is a blessing and should be treated as such. I am eternally grateful that even after this terrible accident, I can walk, talk, think, and will make a recovery. Not everyone is so lucky. Appreciate what you have and give thanks. In the blink of an eye it can almost be taken away from you.

Chag sameach and Happy Holidays to all. Thank you for everything that you have all done for me… I hope that some day I can repay you. Shavua Tov. ”

For Chabad and RARA the story of tonight’s Seder is yet another example of how their far-reaching contacts brought comfort and support for a family from the other side of the world in distress.



2 Responses to “Pesach in Townsville”
  1. Yosi Tal says:

    AN INSPIRING sTORY.Refuah shlema Jake.

  2. Get well Jake.
    Welome to Australia, Jake’s parents, Reed and Elyse.
    I too have had need of RARA and the Chabad and they came to our aid instantly, We live just a little bit further north then Townsville – in Cairns – and although my wife and I couldn’t attend the public Seder in Cairns this year due to illness, Chabad made sure we got matzah and I’m told it was a nice, intimate gathering with all age groups and traditions involved.
    This is true Judaism in action where each of us is responsible for each other. No matter where in the world a Jew goes we know we have ‘family’ and we should know that are MOTS (Members of the Tribe) more so reminded of this at each Pesach.
    Post-Pesach Blessings to you all.
    XXXX R & J

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