Feeling the flames of the Israeli fire from San Francisco

I‘m sinking into the last empty seat on a crowded Bart, when my blackberry vibrates again in my pocket. It hasn’t stopped all afternoon, yet, the incoming email showing my sister-in-law’s address grabs my attention immediately. Even without looking at my watch, I know it’s the middle of the night in Haifa. And I know that this night is different from all other nights: Haifa is fighting Israel’s biggest fire in history as its surrounding Carmel Mountains are in flames. At this point, there are already 40 dead, most burned to almost no recognition; more than 13,000 evacuees, among them friends, families of friends and acquaintances; a kibbutz which survived more than 70 years of wars was lost in flames more than 150 feet high; 1.5 million trees burnt and thousands of acres smoldering with more damage than anyone can ascertain. 

Worse yet, the end in nowhere in sight with hot changing winds, lack of water, supplies and equipment, and no foreseeable improvement in weather as the famous chamsin (heat wave) beats the country on what started as a drought year. In fact, there is so little rain that, drawing from a Talmudic teaching, last Monday was declared by the rabbinate a day of fasting and prayers. My sister-in-law’s email is short: “bad news,” she writes, “our son’s classmate and close friend who was a volunteer fire-fighter, was just killed in the blaze.” We later hear that 16 year old Elad Revin left his 11th grade class at school when he saw the smoke rising from the mountain, in order to join the firefighters. His mom met him on his way to the hills to bring him his fire gear, including his last pair of fire-resistant boots, a gift from my nephew for his recent 16th birthday. Having lived in California for more than two decades, I know we have all had some encounters with fires, and yet, why does this feel different? Is it because I learned to walk on the trails on Mount Carmel? Is it the size of the fire, the size of the country, the fact it’s our “only one”? Or maybe just the fact that we’re so small when facing nature? I think of my nephew. He too proudly volunteered with the fire department, doing so in hopes he can help save “the ever green mountain” – hahar hayarok – as the Carmel has been fondly named. The two of them are portrayed in a fun youtube clip, during training. 

At some point I realize that somewhere between the lost thousands dunams of brush, woods and forest, there was a JNF memorial grove of 1000 trees for members of my family. It’s likely gone by now. I feel so helpless. I listen to every piece of news, search on-line options in some unreasonable hope it will change the results. Its doesn’t. In many ways, the distance makes it worse. I can’t explain it, but I know I want to be there; I too want to offer my home and bring meals to the homeless center. I’m touched to learn that the list of those seeking shelter is still much shorter than the one of those offering tzimmers (vacation cabins) food and support. There are even “grassroots” groups (how poetic!) that are already planning to go out and replant the mountain with new seedlings. Federation is collecting donations and is working to identify what and where our funds and support is needed. But for me, ironically, now there is only one thing left to do: light Hanukkah candles. I close my eyes and wish I could ship the drizzly rain all the way to the other side of the world. - by Michal Kohane, Israel Center Director

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Categories: Israel


December 03, 2010


The Federation