(May 24, 2019 / JNS) As wildfires destroyed most of the 50 or so homes in the town of Mevo Modi’im in central Israel on Thursday, Israelis from all around the country and Jewish organizations have sent emergency assistance to the families affected as Shabbat approached. The moshav had a population of 246 in 2017.
Some 3,500 residents were evacuated from their homes in the extended area affected by the fires with only a few minutes warning, with more than 200 returning on Friday morning to find their homes severely damaged, and some even burnt to the ground. According to Magen David Adom spokesman Zaki Heller, two-dozen people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, including two in moderate condition.
Feigie Troupiansky, who grew up on the moshav, told JNS that the community has been relocated to a youth village as people from all over Israel drop off homemade cakes, clothing, shoes, packages, toiletries, baby carriages, bed and mattresses, suitcases, car seats and “anything else you can think of.”
While people are feeling “loss and shock,” Troupiansky noted, the amount of aid that is being brought is “beautiful.”
“It’s like a mall here, and people are treating us so well, as if you are at a hotel. If you sneeze, someone will immediately come running,” she said. “There is a couple on the moshav who is getting married in a week-and-a-half. Everything, including the wedding dress and suit, is gone. Dressmakers are sending pictures of dresses, offering to recreate the dress. Owners of wedding halls are telling them they can get married by them for free.”
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, known as the hippie-Chassidic “singing rabbi,” founded the community of Mevo Modi’im in 1975. Many of its community members, followers of Carlebach, moved to the area from the United States. Today, the community is known for its eclectic mix of musicians, artists and farmers.
Authorities suggested that embers might have caused the fire, likely from the previous night’s Lag B’Omer bonfires that were not properly put out. According to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, while there were several fires near the border with Gaza that were caused by Hamas’s arson balloons, there were no indications that arson caused the fire.
In fact, the fire likely spread as a result of the intense heat wave, with Friday temperatures reaching 100 degrees throughout Israel—in Tel Aviv, it hit 110 degrees, and reports measured a scorching 122 degrees in Beersheva and the Arava region.
Firefighters from Egypt, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Cyprus arrived Friday morning at the scene of the fires that ravaged throughout the evening. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly recognized Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for sending two helicopters to Israel.
“We were also contacted by many others, including the Palestinian Authority and other elements,” said Netanyahu. “Four to six countries, including Russia, are ready to send practical assistance. They contacted us even before we contacted them. For several of these countries, this is very important. The international capability is important and is assisting the national capability.”
Netanyahu maintained that he is considering “expanding the firefighting squadron for both day and nighttime operations, and enacting other structural changes” for the future. “We will help return people to their homes and if need be, rebuild their homes.”
The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federations of North America also announced on Friday immediate emergency assistance that is being sent to the 60 families in Mevo Modi’im and Kibbutz Harel whose homes were destroyed.
According to a joint press release, the support comes from special funds provided by the Jewish Federations of North America, with the aim of helping families cover immediate needs like clothes and personal belongings in the aftermath of losing their homes. The assistance provided by the Jewish Agency, in coordination with the local welfare authorities in each community, amounts to approximately $1,000 per family.
In an English video address on Friday, Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog said, “We especially feel the strength of Jewish solidarity at times like these, when dozens of Israeli families coping with the shock of losing their home and property receive an immediate embrace from their sisters and brothers across the ocean. … The Jewish Agency will be there to support these families in any way possible, together with our Jewish family in the Diaspora.”