FOLLOWING an increase in the number of Jewish Melburnians admitted to hospital with COVID, at least two community members have tragically died – leading local experts to renew calls for people to get vaccinated.
Early on Monday morning, 56-year-old Gershon (Gabi) Yitshaki passed away after being hospitalised with the illness.
The father of six who ran a jewellery business was unvaccinated.
He is believed to be the first member of the Orthodox community in Australia to die from COVID since this year’s outbreak.
Over the past few weeks, community members have been saying tehillim for him around the clock.
At Yitshaki’s funeral service on Monday, his youngest son, Shlomo, who has not yet reached bar mitzvah, read psalms while teenage son Shmuel bravely spoke about his father, calling him, “my hero”.
He recalled when his father was first admitted to hospital a few weeks ago, saying, “I thought this was just a hiccup.”
“I thought to myself, he’s going to be fine,” he added, noting his father’s strength, “but like always, God Almighty has a plan.”
Rabbi Motty Liberow spoke tearfully about his longtime friend, remembering Yitshaki for his “strength of character” and his “heart of gold”.
Yitshaki was also hailed as a proud Bukharian Jew and a generous and loving father, who Rabbi Liberow said “gave so freely”.
He added that he has always been “in awe” of his friend’s journey, which included raising six children with wife Leah and running a successful diamond business. He was also heavily involved in the community, moving between several shules, including Chabad Caulfield, Beit Chabad, the Hamerkaz Centre, Rambam Sephardi Synagogue and the Yeshivah Centre.
Yitshaki has been temporarily interred at Lyndhurst. His body will be transported for burial in Jerusalem when arrangements can be made.
Meanwhile, The AJN understands that an elderly member of the community, who was also unvaccinated, passed away recently.
As reported last week, a number of Jewish Melburnians are known to be sick in hospital and in ICU.
Reflecting on the recent tragedies, Dr Jonathan Pinczower from Elsternwick Medical Centre, said, “I urge everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
While “most of those who are still unvaccinated have made an informed choice and are worried about the effects of the vaccines … the effects of COVID can be far worse,” he told The AJN.
“COVID is unfortunately spreading through the community right now,” he added, assuring that “Vaccination significantly reduces the risk of the serious consequences of COVID infection.”
Leon Landau, general manager of Hatzolah Melbourne, concurred.
“COVID-19 is in the community, putting people in ICU and costing precious lives. The best thing you can do to protect yourselves, your families and the community is to get vaccinated. If you have any symptoms or are a close contact of a positive case, get tested at an approved testing site.”
He added, “Importantly, if you test positive, please cooperate with the COVID Positive Care Pathways program to get the best treatment as soon as possible. Do not take medications that are not prescribed by a doctor and always seek assistance from medical professionals.”
Richard Glass, president of Sydney’s Wolper Jewish Hospital, told The AJN, “This is a tragic situation that could have been so easily avoided and it is very clear that COVID-19 is fast becoming a disease of the unvaccinated. The negligible risk of having the vaccine pales into insignificance compared to the risk of not being vaccinated.”
Stating, “Those who are vaccinated are not only protecting themselves from any serious effects of COVID-19, they are also protecting their family and their community,” he lamented, “With the exception of those very few people with a legitimate medical reason to not be vaccinated, to not be vaccinated could be seen as a selfish decision.
“If people have genuine concerns about being vaccinated they should speak to their GP as in 99.9 per cent of cases they will be able to allay the fears of the vaccine-hesitant. And if your GP is an anti-vaxxer, I’d strongly recommend changing GPs.”
Hatzolah responds 24/7 to any medical emergency including COVID-19. Call Hatzolah on 1800 613 613.