• The outside of a home that was destroyed in the fire in Beit Meir.

    The outside of a home that was destroyed in the fire in Beit Meir.

    Danielle Mor, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
  • A victim of the fires hugging Jewish Agency Vice President of Israel and Global Philanthropy, Danielle Mor, on the premises of the victim’s destroyed home in Beit Meir.

    Danielle Mor, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
  • Debris in one of the houses made uninhabitable by the fire in the town of Beit Meir in the Jerusalem hills. The roof upstairs is completely gone.

    Debris in one of the houses made uninhabitable by the fire in the town of Beit Meir in the Jerusalem hills. The roof upstairs is completely gone.

    Danielle Mor, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
Jewish Social Action

A Crisis of New Proportions

A community in the Jerusalem Hills was just one of many across Israel hit by the fire. For the Levy family, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

In the 1950s, The Jewish Agency helped to build homes in the Moshav of Beit Meir, in the hills just west of Jerusalem.

Last week, many of those original homes burned.

All that’s left of the burnt homes is framing, pieces of glass, random materials strewn about. Shells of houses.

The charred remains are a stark contrast to the hope that brewed as the homes were being built. 

As staff from The Jewish Agency approached Beit Meir, they could still smell the smoke.

Yael Raz, director of the Special Operations and Emergency Response unit of The Jewish Agency since the 2006 Lebanon War, thought she had seen it all. “But you stand there, aghast – in front of a house that simply is no more, and you realize that a thousand degrees centigrade can raze a house to its very foundations. Everything was destroyed and full of dust,” she said as she walked among the wreckage.

Jewish Agency staff traveled to Beit Meir to deliver grants of $1,000 each to families in need of basic elements like clean clothes, medicines, and small household items in the wake of the fire. To date, The Jewish Agency has delivered more than 550 grants all across the country, each made possible by the generous support of the Jewish Federations of North America – led by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF), and Combined Jewish Philanthropies – Boston’s Jewish Federation (CJP) – as well as Keren Hayesod, and other donors around the world.

The Jewish Agency received notice from the local municipality just 24 hours earlier about Beit Meir families in need of emergency assistance. They drove to the town, and carried with them the empathy and financial support of Jewish communities from around the world.

The Levy Family’s Beit Meir home suffered severe damage because of the fire. And very unfortunately, the fire reached the Levy home at a particularly difficult time in their lives.

Oshra Levy explained to The Jewish Agency that her husband has a heart condition. Just before the fire, he had spent four weeks at the hospital recovering from open heart surgery. He came home in desperate need of more rest.

On the night of the fire, Levy woke after midnight to loud banging and a megaphone blaring out immediate evacuation orders.

She opened the window to get a better sense of what was happening, and saw the fire snaking quickly toward her. Smoke and sparks came in through the window and engulfed her bedroom.

In the blackness of smoke in the deep night, Levy woke her husband as gently as possible, and then her son. They left the house with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, and Mr. Levy’s bag of medications.

After they were given the all clear to return to their home, Oshra Levy saw that their front hall was completely blackened, and their front door had been broken with a firefighter’s axe. She realized that had she not heard that megaphone exactly when she did, they would not have escaped alive.

The Levys’ son’s school burned down in the fire. And Mr. Levy has been in and out of the hospital since that night. On the day we delivered the grant, though, Oshra Levy was optimistic, and deeply thankful.

She rushed out to meet Jewish Agency staff as they approached her home. “Are you the people Natan Sharansky sent?” she asked. “My husband and I love him and have been praying for him for years.”

Levy fought back tears. “Please tell those good people how much I thank them,” she continued. “Your help is truly needed. This is a blessing.”

There are unfortunately many more families like the Levys – people facing intense uphill battles in the wake of the fires. An estimated 700 homes were destroyed or deemed uninhabitable.

Yael Raz recounts: “I met a couple, one of whom was in a wheelchair, whose home had been burned down. They were looking for other places to live in, but they couldn’t find anywhere with wheelchair access, and they were left with nowhere to live. There are hundreds of people, hundreds of families, who can never go back to the life they once had.”

Though more than 75,000 people were forced to flee their homes, not a single person perished. But there is much more to be done to help those who lost almost everything.


Read More:

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, and Barry Shrage, president of CJP Greater Boston, visited families in Haifa who have lost nearly everything. 

Helping Fire Victims, Family by Family - The Brat family and other fire victims receive immediate assistance, made possible by our partners around the world.


07 Dec 2016 / 7 Kislev 5777 0
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