December 7, 2010
As our focus begins to shift to the longer term, the Jewish Agency is continuing the respite activities for youth affected by the fire, and by tomorrow (Wednesday), over 4,000 participants will have enjoyed activities in places including Luna and Superland Amusement Parks, Cinema City, Safari, and Cinema City, in cooperation with Migdal Ohr and HaNoar HaOved. Please listen to a message of thanks from Natan Sharansky.
Below is an updated story on the activities from our website. The Jewish Agency is today preparing a summary of needs for Jewish Federations of North America, and we will look forward to working with communities across the United States to fund both our initial respite activities and the programs that will help families and communities restore themselves after the devestation.
When the Carmel forest burst into flames, soon to become Israel’s largest and most devastating forest fire, David Dado happened to be looking out his window.
A resident of Tirat Hacarmel, a city in Haifa overlooking the Carmel forest, he is one of thousands who had to evacuate their homes on a moment's notice. Fortunately, unlike many others, his home was not destroyed.
"At first we just noticed the flames, around 50 meters (a few feet) from our house and when we went outside, we saw the soot. We never thought the flames would reach us – but by 6 pm it was coming towards us like a ball of fire," said Dado who with his nine-year-old daughter, Shiraz, participated in a December 6th outing at the "Lunapark" amusement park, organized by the Jewish Agency with the assistance of the Migdal Or Association and the Hanoar Ha’oved ve’Halomed youth movement.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharanksy (Far Right) with Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman (Center), Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha'Emek, and Uri Cohen (Far Left), Director of the Mekif Dati Ariel High School in Tirat Hacarmel.
The Dado family was just two of over 1,000 children and youth from Tirat Hacarmel and the Yemin Orde youth village, where buildings were destroyed, whose lives were uprooted and devastated by the fire and who were treated to fun outings thanks to the generosity of our partners.
"My little daughter was hysterical," recalled Dado, who has four children. At first the family abandoned their home and moved into his mother's house but soon her house, too, was in the danger zone and the entire family moved to another relative's home.
For Lea Hauon, also from Tirat Hacarmel and a mother of three, the damage caused by the fire was not only physical but emotional. Her oldest child, she said, was afraid to leave his room. The stress was unprecedented. The burning smell was terrible.
"It was really scary," she said. "We ran away from our home and had only a few moments to decide what to bring with us. What can you take in those moments? Just the children, a few clothes and the pictures on the wall."
Angelina Havato, a Tirat Hacarmel resident and a mother of two, said that the hardest part of it was explaining to her children what was happening. "There are no words," she said.
And Moran Elkayam, a Tirat Hacarmel resident and mother of three, said it brought her back to the Second Lebanon War. "Our area is devastated, the children are in a panic and we are all under tremendous stress," she said.
A day of recreation at a fun place like an amusement park is precisely what psychologists and experts on trauma recommend for children during crises like the fire.
“This [Lunapark outing] is crucial for the children and families who were touched by the fire,” said Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharanksy.
Uri Cohen, the Director of the Mekif Dati Ariel High School in Tirat Hacarmel, grasped from the start of the fire that children in the area needed some relief.
That is why he was one of the main organizers to bring over 1,000 of the area-youth to the Lunapark.
"I believe it is my duty as an educator to not only teach and learn with my students but to be there for them during times like this. It is important that we help them laugh right now and for a few hours forget what has happened to them," he said.
His school, in particular, is made up of mostly immigrants from Ethiopia and low-income families, so a trip to a place like the Lunapark is much appreciated.
"This has been a tremendous tragedy. We saw families out on the street with only a few belonging in plastic bags. They had no where else to go and some even slept on the street," he said.
For 17-year-old Eish Yemini, a student at the Mekif Dati Ariel High School in Tirat Hacarmel, the day at the Lunapark revived them.
"It is freeing from all the pressure we've endured," he said. "This gives us all the power and strength and energy we need to continue."
The one heartening thing throughout the whole tragedy was the way the Jewish community across the globe offered their support and solidarity.
“The moment the news hit about the fire, Jewish Federations across North America were ready and willing to help,” said Sharansky. "The Jewish Agency is the arm through which the Jewish people can show their support and solidarity with Israel." Or as Tirat Hacarmel mother Moran Elkayam said it, "Kol Hakavod to the Jewish Agency!"
Youth from Tirat Hacarmel and the Yemin Orde youth village, whose lives were uprooted and devastated by the Carmel fire, at a day of fun at the Lunapark in Tel Aviv.
Photo Credit: Brian Hendler