Israel: drought and fire

Here’s a very stirring piece of writing from Anne Feibelman, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, about what’s it’s like to be in Israel right now, what with the devastating fire in the north, and the prolonged drought that has caused it. It’s posted with Anne’s permission. When I read it, I latched on to the notes of resilience and celebration, but was also struck by the unsettling realization that both of these things will be needed to deal with the evident effects of climate change in Israel and elsewhere, and the other harbingers of what seems like a hard future ahead.

The last forecast I looked at suggests that Israel might be getting some rain over the weekend and in to next week. May it come speedily and in our days!
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Chanukah 5771 in Israel – Impressions
Anne Feibelman
December 5, 2010

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Nigun HaLev, a grass roots congregation in the Jezreel valley.The congregation is comprised of kibbutzniks, moshavniks and city dwellers, farmers and hi-tech executives, children, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The Kabbalat Shabbat service is modern-Israeli, innovative with guitar, beautiful singing, traditional prayers and nigunnim woven in with modern poetry and Carlebach tunes. A year of planning had gone into the anniversary party, with congregation-wide participation and enthusiasm.

Friday morning, due to the forest fire on Mt. Carmel, the three spritual directors of the kehilah met to decide whether to hold the 10th anniversary party scheduled for Saturday morning. After much discussion, a decision was made to postpone the celebration indefinitely. By the time Shabbat rolled in and Kabbalat Shabbat services began, the mood was somber. A bus-load of Israelis had been killed on Mt. Carmel. The forests of Mt. Carmel were ashes, and the wildlife that inhabited the green forests were burned to death. It is December. In the season when we pray daily for our winter rain, no rain has fallen.. All forests are dry, crackling timberlands.The skies are relentlessly blue, cloudless, hot. .Every step on the dry, parched earth is a reminder that the green fields and moist earth have not arrived.

At Friday night night services,the chairs are arranged around a small table, Rabbi Chen from Moshav Nahalal, begins Kabbalat Shabbat. People arrive, bringing their hanukiot to light. The mood picks up with the singing. Voices are accompanied by Shaye’s beautiful guitar playing. A woman joins him on her flute. Kabbalat Shabbat is followed by communal candle-lighting of the hanukiot. One man shares that his hanukiah is made of silver soup spoons from his family. Each family member had a silver spoon with their name engraved on it, for his grandmother’s Friday night chicken soup. His family was killed in the Shoah. He has welded together the spoons as a tribute to their light in those dark times. Ma’aariv follows. Bini gives a moving d’var Torah on the importance of having hope and faith despite the burning fire. I say a mi- sheberach for the 10th anniversary of the kehillah.

The service ends. It is time for announcements. One woman who has been sitting quietly, speaks up. She has been evacuated from her home. Her young grandson was visiting at her house for Chanukah, when she was told to leave immediately because of the fire. She threw things into a suitcase, took her grandson by the hand, and left. She arrived at shul with her suitcase.. She is a native Israeli, in her sixties. She said that in all her years growing up and growing old in Israeli, she has never been afraid – in the army as a soldier, in the ’67, ’73, ’82 wars, in the intifadas, never. Today she felt fear. Like all those wars rolled into one moment, of life and loss and love. History is meaningful in Israel, So are current events.

Another man spoke. He had arrived a bit late to services. He had planned to hike in the canyon ravine on Mt Carmel. As he was entering the ravine, he got a phone call and had to cancel the hike. Two hours later, a tunnel of fire shot down the canyon and ignited the ravine. He was lucky. He hopes the firefighters are safe.

A woman announces that all the food that was prepared for the 10th anniversary party is being collected, driven up to Mt Carmel, and given to the police and firefighters. No one bats an eye. My friend Dorit is waiting for the sufganyot to arrive.. Her husband Yossi tells me not to worry. The people up around Carmel are different. They know how to deal with tough things in life.

The next morning, all televisions are playing the news. The winds have picked up during the night, whipping up the fires like cappucino foam. The hopes of getting the blaze under control have disappeared. Drorit’s family is sitting under their pomelo tree, having a picnic in winter.The drone of small planes fills the sky. They are flying in low overhead, Two at time – red, yellow, white. Each country is identified by the country’s color. Greece – once our oppressors on Hanukah – is now sending planes to aid Israel. Planes from Turkey and Cyprus follow. Israelis are glad to see the planes again. At night, the skies were too dark for small planes to navigate, so they stopped flying until daybreak. Two by two. Like Noah’s ark. Only now, there is no water. There is only destruction by fire.

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