Israel is a wonderful country, and Israelis are usually happy people. On most days, things are going well. However, every once in a while we get slapped with some sort of crisis that reminds us that we live in a dangerous neighborhood. We are used to military operations and terror attacks, and consider them part of our lives, but Nature sends its reminders too. Geologically speaking, our land sits on top of a barrel of explosives, and a severe earthquake is only a matter of time. Israel’s droughts, along with easterly winds, hot weather, and pine forests, are a recipe for fires. Israelis are well prepared and trained to deal with military crises, but are we neglecting Nature’s threats? The recent Carmel fire proved we aren’t prepared.
There are times when humans feel how small they are against natural forces. The Carmel fire was one of the deadliest non-military events in the modern history of the State of Israel. The fire killed 42 people, damaged or destroyed 250 homes, caused the evacuation of 17,000 people and burned five million trees and 12,500 acres of land. A recent government report concluded that Israel’s fire-fighting capacity is woefully inadequate. We have to do better.
Something good came out of the disaster, too. Two weeks ago, the world showed Israel its supportive side. The number of countries that immediately volunteered to send aid is unprecedented. Eighteen countries sent helicopters and airplanes, firefighters and other aid, including our neighbors Turkey, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has often sent its people and supplies to aid countries suffering natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti. The Carmel fire was the first time that Israel needed help from others.
Along with global support, Israelis signed up to help in any way they could. Israeli firefighters received homemade food and other basic commodities from Israelis who drove all the way north. Hundreds of Israeli families immediately volunteered to host all those thousands evacuated from their homes for an indefinite period. Toys, clothes, school supplies, blankets and dishes were collected and distributed among the evacuated families. Animal organizations recruited volunteers to help save animals wounded by fire. Handymen from all over Israel volunteered to renovate burned homes free of charge. Free fun activities and field trips were offered to evacuated children, since the fires happened on the week of Hanukkah, which is a school vacation in Israel.
In less than a few hours after the first flames ignited, Jewish organizations from all over the world initiated emergency campaigns. I received e-mails from my New York colleagues, asking how they could help. This is what family does; this is Jewish peoplehood at its best.