My beautiful, beloved country is literally on fire. Fire is horrific under any circumstance, but arson as an act of terrorism is diabolically atrocious.
As I read about residents of Beit Meir literally trapped last night as fire surrounded their homes, the only road in and out of their little town engulfed in flames, I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks. I cannot imagine the abject terror that those poor people must have felt in the long minutes while they were waiting for firefighters to rescue them. I watched a video showing a long convoy of cars filled with people of all ages, including small children and babies, leaving Beit Meir in the middle of the night, as emergency personnel held flashlights along the road to illuminate the way, with heavy smoke clouding the air, and flames all around them. If I was crying and shaking as I was seeing it on the screen of my phone, with no skin in the game so to speak, I can’t imagine what it was like for those poor people.
As I left my own city last night headed toward Jerusalem, I saw pockets of tall flames in the tree-studded hills to my left. When I returned home, there were dozens of fire engines sitting at our highway exit, making sure that the flames wouldn’t reach the adjacent gas station.
I watched with horror, shock, and grief as fires engulfed Haifa yesterday, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, destroying valuable property, and ravaging homes filled with precious memories. My son’s friends and teachers were evacuated from Dolev and Talmon, where fires raged, were extinguished, and were subsequently re-kindled due to the unrelenting and cruel high winds.
While natural disasters produce the same devastation as what we are currently experiencing here in Israel, the fact that at least some of these fires are being set intentionally takes this situation to a whole new level. Only the most depraved of human beings, and I use that term loosely, would use arson as an act of terrorism. I can’t say that I am surprised by the magnitude of evil, but I find myself newly repulsed by the barbarism and inhumanity.
Terrorism is meant to induce fear and submission. Guess what? We Israelis don’t do scared and submissive. Yes, of course we are frightened and traumatized by the thought of being blown up, stabbed, shot, rammed into, or burned. We’re ridiculously brave, but we’re not stupid. However, what we know, and what our enemies have yet to learn, is that we have the strength to rise above the terror, because we do it collectively and unitedly as a nation.
If a family from Haifa needs a place to stay, or clothes and blankets for their children, or a crib for their baby, an absolute stranger from anywhere and everywhere in Israel will supply whatever they need. If said stranger doesn’t have the needed items in his/her home, s/he will run right out and buy them, no matter what the cost. We take care of each other, because at the end of the day, we are all one family. There are stations filled with food and drinks set up for firefighters and emergency personnel. After all, we’re Jewish mothers, doing what we do best in times of crisis, which is making sure that everyone is fed and cared for.
You see, the thing about fire is that it can do more than just scorch and destroy, it has many positive properties as well. Fire is used to cauterize wounds, to make sure that they heal properly. Fire is used to warm those who are cold, to light that which is dark, to cook food which can nourish, and to provide a valuable source of energy. It is also used to straighten bent metal. So yes, these fires can bend us, but we will use the exact same fire to straighten right back up.
The numerous fires that are currently burning in Israel have caused undeniable physical and emotional damage. In that respect, terrorism by arson has done its job. However, no fire can destroy the unflagging and indefatigable spirit of the Israeli nation. We are programmed to band together, to help and support one another, to offer our strength to those whose reserve has been depleted, and to rise above. We always rise above. Our might is in more than our powerful armed forces, in more than our capable firefighters, in more than our dedicated emergency personnel. Our might is also in our indomitable spirit, which only grows stronger when we are threatened.
One last thing about fire is that while it burns trees, flowers, crops, grass, and vegetation, it does not necessarily burn the roots. In some cases, roots and seeds can survive a fire. And in other situations, while one plant may be destroyed, another one will grow from the ashes. So while fire may leave desolation in its wake, I live in hope that there will be rebirth.