Update on the Fire in the Carmel

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean, HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, writes:

As the scope of the disaster and fiasco become clear, it is now crucial to take responsibility and learn from what is now absolutely clear: years of neglect of our infrastructure, no strategic planning, arrogance, beauracracy, and Ministers who will blame one another for this crisis rather than preparing for the next.  We buried 41 dead: police officers, trainees, and volunteers who came from all walks of Israeli life to save life.

BUT, there is a silver lining, our Prime Minister asked for help and we GOT IT.  Israelis are waking up to a reality that we are not "a nation alone"...we have friends who literally jumped on their planes to help us, and even soured relations that turned around because of the clear human need.

ALSO...the spirit of giving and caring by police and firefighters and plain citizens has not died, we are still a people who come together in crisis and give, give, give!

Our Jewish brothers and sisters from all over the world went into high alert..anxious and supportive..we will need it!!!

We will need help to reforest, help to rebuild, but we also need help to build from the inside.   Again our sectoral political system has cost us too many lives, again we were arrogant and smug. We need to remind each other as the French  Head of the EU said this morning, in this world today even superpowers need help to face global disasters.  Let us say: IT TAKES A WORLD TO SAVE A VILLAGE...

And last but not least, let us not loose sight of the deep processes of change that HUC is an active partner in.   A society that needs to be deeply rooted in our highest Jewish values of care, tikkun, justice cannot happen without teachers, rabbis, and leaders who exemplify these values.

Please read the words of HUC-JIR/Jerusalem's newest ordinee, Rabbi Gaby Dagan, of Congregation Ohel Avraham at the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, who embodies these values.

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Rabbi Gaby Dagan (HUC-JIR/Jerusalem 2010) writes:

The Heart Burns

Rabbi Gaby Dagan is the rabbi of the Reform congregation Ohel Avraham in Haifa, and the rabbi of the junior-high section at the city’s Leo Baeck Education Center.

To you, Lord, I call, for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.
Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.

Joel 1

At noon on Friday, as the flames were still soaring high and the fire had not been consumed, I received a phone call from the front-line command center for the fire at Haifa University. “We want to light Hanukkah candles for the forces who are out working in the field all the time. We also need plenty of doughnuts.” Members of Ohel Avraham Reform congregation collect over 300 doughnuts, a large Chanukiya, and a guitar, and we head off for the burning heart of the Carmel Forests. There, among the police cars, ambulances, media personnel, and politicians, we lit the candles for the third night of Hanukkah.

It is difficult, if not impossible, not to see a connection between the nature of this festival, with its miracle of fire and its triumph of the spirit, and the flames that burn just a few meters away, as the human spirit battles the spirits of nature. Strength and might combat the evil wind, and the human spirit struggles with the all-consuming flame.

My father was a fireman for over forty years. The colors of the uniforms and the sight of blackened nature are not new to me. I stood there proud, fearful, and weeping for the loss of human life and for the victory of the Jewish and Israeli spirit.   “Bless us,” we sang, as we lit candles for the wounded, the dead, and the struggling.

Just a few hours later, on Saturday morning, a Bar Mitzva ceremony was held in Ohel Avraham synagogue.  A few minutes before the ceremony began, one of the guests told me that Elad Riven, a young school student from Haifa and a friend of the family, had died in the fire. It was not clear to the family that the ceremony should go ahead in such circumstances.

Once again, we must cross familiar and unfamiliar boundaries of joy marred by profound sadness. We said the “Shehechiyanu” prayer for the young boy who had just become a man, and with the same breath and the same tears we said Kaddish for those who will celebrate no more.  The Bar Mitzva boy’s speech was transformed from the usual blend of optimism and naivety to the burning reality we faced. We celebrated, and we wept.

On Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, students from Leo Baeck Education Center packed hundreds of food parcels for the firemen and for the families of school students from Usafiya, Daliyat al-Carmel, the Carmel Coast region, and the Dania neighborhood of Haifa.  The showers at the community center were opened up to the security forces, offering a brief chance for them to relax and clean themselves.  At such times, our lives are guided by the needs of families who have experienced and are still experiencing loss.

As the fire subsides, so too does the joy of the festival. Prayers for rain make way for prayers for healing. In such days, the concept of “family” extends to Israeli society in its entirety – Jews, Druze, and Arabs alike. The head coverings of women from the Druze village of Usafiya and the religious Jewish Kibbutz Nir Etzion are used to shield the face from the toxic smoke, as the fire burns all of our houses – without distinction.

Today we lower our heads and ponder on the small spark that lit a great darkness. We pray that this fire will come to an end, and we pray for the injured and those brave individuals who gave their lives to save others.

***

Members of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism write:

We are writing to update you with current news of the tragedy in the North of Israel.  As thousands of people are displaced from their homes due to a massive wildfire, the fire fighters now seem to have the fire under control.  The fire has claimed at least 42 lives and more than 4 million trees on nearly 10,000 acres of land.  We are all in mourning for those we have lost, and aid for the victims is of the Movement’s greatest concern at this moment.

During the weekend:

The IMPJ has been communicating with all of the main agencies in charge of the crisis: the government rescue head-quarters, the logistics center for the operation, the center for displaced families, and the mayors of Tirat Carmel and Ussfia.  We have been in touch with these agencies since the Lebanon War in 2006

  • The IMPJ congregations in Haifa and the Carmel (Or Chadash, Shirat Hayam, Ohel Avraham and Sulam Yaakov in Zikhron Yaacov) are in touch with their members and staff from the evacuated areas. They are all safe.  The Leo Beck school assisted it's students from Tirat Carmel and Ussfiya that have been evacuated.  The students and their families are all safe, and the majority of them have already returned home.
  • Congregation Ohel Avraham held Shabbat services and candle lighting in the firefighters’ headquarters in Haifa university with the participation of hundreds of rescue workers and fire fighters.
  • The Leo Baeck students packaged during the weekend, hundreds of kits with food and supplies for the fire fighters.  The community center has been opened as a rest area for rescue workers.
  • Since this afternoon, Keren B'Kavod, with Leo Baeck center are providing hundreds of hot meals for fire-fighters andrescue workers In the next 24 hours:

As the focus in the North is moving from putting out the fire to rehabilitating the people and land that were affected we are adjusting to provide any help necessary.

  • Noar Telem will assist Keren B'Kavod in packaging supplies for rescue workers and for displaced families.
  • Noar Telem will be heading north to organize activities for the displaced children from kibbutz Beit Oren and Ein Hod, who are now residing in Kibbutz Nachsholim. Keren B’Kavod is now focusing on identifying needs for the future, with our staff on-the ground visiting the area in order to determine how we can best help in rehabilitation.

 In a few hours, the IRAC weekly newsletter will be published early to share this information as well as other updates with our vast group of supporters.  If you have any information about relief efforts, please write to us immediately so that we may share this in the newsletter.

In a few hours we will send you an article by Rabbi Gaby Dagan about his experience and insights from this weekend.

Thank you for your support, especially in times of great need.

Yaron Shavit, Chair

Anat Hoffman, Director, IRAC

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu