A crisis response specialist checks on an injured koala in Australia earlier this month. A crisis response specialist checks on an injured koala in Australia earlier this month. A crisis response specialist checks on an injured koala in Australia earlier this month. (Photo: Peter Parks / AFP/Getty Images)

Australians in Israel organize charity events for wildlife relief effort back home

After devastating bushfires, expat community rallies with a concert, a trivia night, a boxing match and more.

Australian Sarah Vanunu Australian Sarah Vanunu (Photo: Courtesy)

Australian Sarah Vanunu first visited Israel in the winter of 2003. She spent a few months backpacking around the country and, one night, found herself at a bar. It was there she met an Israeli jazz musician. Eight days later he proposed. "I came back home engaged," she recalled of that fateful trip.

But her new fiancé wasn't the only thing she fell in love with; it was the country as well. She eventually moved to Israel, had three children and got a job in marketing. But she has never forgotten her roots.

Vanunu manages the "Australians Living in Israel" Facebook group and she estimates that there are about 10,000 expats living in the Mediterranean country. The group has served as an online community for fellow Aussies looking to help in the wake of the devastating bushfires, which were sparked by record temperatures and extended drought. "Everyone back home is sending me pictures of red skies," she told From The Grapevine. "My brother has a gas mask because the air pollution is like 40 times the recommended normal amount. It's terrible."

Vanunu and her group jumped into action and decided to host a concert for charity, with all proceeds being donated to the WWF's Australian Wildlife & Nature Recovery Fund. The musical extravaganza will feature both Israeli and Australian singers and will be held at Hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv Port. The venue – which can accommodate approximately 2,000 people – is owned by a fellow Australian who is letting them use the space for free. The concert is being organized in partnership with KKL, JNF Australia, IACC, the Zionist Federation of Australia and Tel Aviv University – and in cooperation with Billabong and Tim Tams. The Australian Ambassador to Israel has confirmed he will speak at the event.

Singers Savannah Zwi (left) and Hagit Yaso will be among the performers at the charity concert. Singers Savannah Zwi (left) and Hagit Yaso (right) will be among the performers at the charity concert. (Photo: Courtesy / Wikimedia)

Vanunu's event is just one of many being orchestrated by Australian expats in Israel. Abbiemay Doré, a fashion model, is organizing an Australian-themed trivia night this coming Tuesday at a bar in Tel Aviv to help raise awareness and funds. She thought she'd have a few people, but more than 70 have already registered. 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.

Nicole Brodie, a native of Melbourne, moved to Israel a decade ago. "I think it's important for everyone to help any country that had something so severe happen, especially Australians living outside of Australia," she said. "It's where you're from and you just want to help." Brodie, whose brother had to evacuate his home just outside of Melbourne, is donating Australian-made leather belts as prizes to give away at the trivia night event.

All of this comes on the heels of the efforts of the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. Rachael Risby Raz, the zoo's international relations manager, is also originally from Australia. Shortly after the new year, she launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for much-needed veterinary supplies in Australia: burn creams, milk formulas, teats for bottles, wound sprays, medical equipment and more. They've raised about $18,000 in donations so far. "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."

The Biblical Zoo's Rachael Risby Raz giving a TV interview about the campaign she launched to help the animals in her native Australia. The Biblical Zoo's Rachael Risby Raz giving a TV interview about the campaign she launched to help the animals in her native Australia. (Photo: Courtesy Rachael Risby Raz)

As for Vanunu, she is pleasantly surprised at all of those who have jumped into action. "I can't believe it. I heard about guys that decided to fly back home to go and volunteer with the firefighters," she said. "The area that has been destroyed is like three times the size of Israel. It's mind-boggling. People can't wrap their head around how catastrophic this has been."

She plans on returning home to Australia in March for her best friend's wedding. "I have a ticket booked," she said. "And I'm looking forward to it."

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Australians in Israel organize charity events for wildlife relief effort back home
After devastating bushfires, expat community rallies with a concert, a trivia night, a boxing match and more.