Daily Israel Report

Brisbane Torah Scrolls Rescued from Raging Flood Waters

Brisbane's Torah scrolls rescued by congregation, but 14 people died and dozens more are missing in tragic Brisbane floods.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 1/13/2011, 4:35 PM / Last Update: 1/13/2011, 9:14 PM

Mendel Jaffe / Chabad.org

The raging waters in Australia have claimed the lives of 14 people, with dozens  more reported missing as a roaring river swallowed roads and entire neighborhoods.

Somehow,  members of the historic 125-year-old Brisbane Hebrew Congregation managed to preserve their heritage in the face of the kind of floods that had not hit the region since 1974.

As the local Jewish community carefully emptied their synagogue of holy items, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Levi Jaffe, head of the congregation and director of Chabad of Brisbane announced he would carry the Torah scrolls out of harm's way -- home with him.

A resident of the suburb of Carindale, which was not affected by the floods, Jaffe told Chabad.org that many residents had fled to friends' homes and higher ground. “Because of the rapid rise of the Brisbane River, there will be no services at the synagogue; they will take place at my home,” Jaffe said.

Dozens Still Missing
Streets near the historic Brisbane Hebrew Congregation were underwater Wednesday as Australians waited for the Brisbane River to crest, as predicted, at just half a meter below its record 1974 level.

Weeks of heavy rains and flash floods have plagued the state of Queensland since November, reaching the reported death toll of 14 on Wednesday. At least 74 were still missing.

The flood waters reached a peak level of 4.46 meters at approximately 7:15 p.m. GMT, just below the 1974 level that devastated the city, and have since begun to recede.

But relief is expected to come slow in an area of Australian territory larger than Germany and France combined, destroying crops in much of what is basically the nation's breadbasket.

'Post-War Reconstruction Ahead'
Some 15,000 homes are completely submerged, according to local media, some all the way up to the rooftop. Another 14,000 are at least partly under water as well.

More than 8,000 commercial establishments were also submerged, effectively wiped off the famous Brisbane waterfront.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, meanwhile, told reporters the situation is still extremely dangerous. “Queensland is reeling this morning from the worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation,” she said. “We now face a reconstruction task of post-war proportions.”