Our Time to Pitch In


The flames that consumed us this Chanukah have all burned out. Yet even as we try to hang on to the warmth of the holiday, our spirit is dampened knowing that Israel is left picking up the charred remains of the wildfires that cut a fierce path of destruction in the north of the country.

Amid the despair, Israeli society is engaged in a lot of soul-searching, trying to understand how the country could have been so woefully unequipped to combat such a blaze.

While the authorities there investigate and hopefully work to remedy the shortfall of firefighting equipment and personnel, we have a different role to play.

Just as American Jews have rallied to help Israel in times of war and mass absorption of new immigrants, Israel needs us again.

The victims of this worst natural disaster in Israel's history are many. Saddest, of course, was the tragic deaths of 42 individuals, most of whom were prison-guard cadets trapped in a bus on their way to help evacuate a prison threatened by the blaze.

Two firefighters who rushed to rescue the guards and a 16-year-old volunteer, Elad Riven, also were killed. The rushing fires — apparently ignited by a careless youth rather than arsonists, as initially suspected — didn't distinguish among victims; Jews, Muslims and Druze all lost lives. Among the dead was Ahuva Tomer, the female chief of Haifa's police force, who bravely led a failed attempt to rescue the busload of cadets.

Also counted among the victims are the thousands who were left homeless and the stretches of scorched earth amid the once-verdant northern part of the country.

Damage estimates range as high as $75 million, and dozens of American Jewish organizations have opened emergency fundraising mailboxes. (For a partial list, see Page 20.)

The Jewish National Fund, which has been responsible for the forestation of the country, certainly has its work cut out for it.

With some 12,000 acres scorched and an estimated 5 million trees burned, the JNF has launched a $10 million campaign to be split between reforestation and other causes, such as rebuilding tourism.

Also reaching out for international assistance is the Yemin Orde youth village, home to more than 500 immigrant, disadvantaged and at-risk youth, including many orphans and Ethiopians.

The village outside Haifa has special ties to the Philadelphia area. Just last month, a youth choir from there performed at several venues here, including the Perelman Jewish Day School. Little did the visiting teenagers know that soon after their fundraising tour to the United States, they would be forced to flee their home, much of it badly damaged by the conflagration.

Israel is no longer the poor nation it once was, but that doesn't mean that when disaster strikes, we shouldn't be there to help. It's what helps keep the good kind of flame burning strong. 



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