Israelis rush to send aid to Australia in wake of devastating fires
A Jerusalem zoo, Gal Gadot and Australian expats have galvanized to help.
From her home in Jerusalem, Rachael Risby Raz watched the news of the devastating fires blazing through Australia's bushland. She grew up in Melbourne and still has family there, and the scenes of destruction were hard to comprehend. Nearly 18 million acres have burned, an area more than three times the size of Israel.
Then came the photos of the animals. Pictures of koalas with charred feet and kangaroos literally hugging their human rescuers have zipped across social media, opening the public's eyes to the natural disaster. It's estimated that approximately half a billion animals have been impacted due to the fires. The future of entire species of animals may be in danger.
So Risby Raz decided to act. As the international relations manager at the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, she was in a unique position to do something. She knew what the animals needed and quickly put together a wish list of veterinary supplies: burn creams, milk formulas, teats for bottles, wound sprays, medical equipment and more. On Sunday, she launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to purchase the equipment online and have it sent directly to the rescuers on the ground. By Monday, she had already raised thousands of dollars.
"It went viral," she told From The Grapevine this morning. "I think a lot of people were just moved by the fact that we're so far away – more than 6,000 miles – and yet we're also so moved and stressed by what's happening in Australia."
The Biblical Zoo has been at its current location on the outskirts of Jerusalem for nearly three decades. It's home to hundreds of species, and even has a special section dedicated to animals from Australia. "We have a colony of kangaroos who, at the moment, are experiencing a baby boom," said Risby Raz. "I think we had three Joeys born in the last couple of weeks. We have fruit bats which actually came from Sydney. They were rescued after they were injured and we had a whole group of them come and they live here at our zoo." The area dedicated to the Down Under also includes a cheeky kookaburra, a bettong, bearded dragons, blue tongue lizards and cockatoos. "That's why it's probably extra distressing that these are animals that we know and love. You see pictures of burned kangaroos and you know that just outside your office you've got this gorgeous group of gray kangaroos," explained Risby Raz. "It touched our heart."
The zoo is not alone in galvanizing support for Australia. Abbiemay Doré, a fashion model, is one of thousands of Australian ex-pats who now reside in Israel. She's helping organize an Australian-themed trivia night at a bar in Tel Aviv to help raise awareness and funds. She thought she'd have a few people, but "I have like 50 people volunteering," she told us. "I've never really organized something like this." Doré, who is also involved in the martial arts community in Israel, said that two local clubs are holding a charity fight and sparring session to raise money as well.
Humanitarian groups like the Tel Aviv-based IsraAid are watching developments closely and are having internal discussions about different ways in which they can be of assistance. On Instagram, Israeli actress Gal Gadot asked her 34 million followers to donate to relief efforts down under. "Nature is so beautiful and powerful and fragile all at the same time," she wrote. "I’m so devastated."
As for Risby Raz, who visited her family in Melbourne last week, she understands that it's going to be an uphill struggle. "The situation is just beginning," she told us. "It's going to be a very long-term effort there. This is only just the very beginning. The fires are still burning. This is going to have consequences that can go on for months, even years."
She sees hope in the response she's received in just a few days of raising money to help Australia's animals, a cause that's particularly close to her heart. "What is the role of the zoo? The zoo is like a modern Noah's ark," she said. "The animals that we have here at the zoo are basically being looked after for the next generation."
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