Two organizations, one headed by Jews and the other headed by Christians, joined together to help the people of Mevo Modi’im. A wildfire in the Ben Shemen forest left the entire community of 50 families homeless.
Last Thursday, residents were shocked when authorities announced that the fires were at the edges of the town and they must evacuate immediately. Families had ten minutes to flee before the flames engulfed the houses. Most fled with literally the clothes on their backs. The people returned the next day to total devastation with 40 houses destroyed by fire and cars burned. Even the residents whose houses were untouched are prevented from returning to live. The fire was so intense it destroyed the water and electricity infrastructure. It is estimated that it will take at least six months to repair.
Upon hearing of the situation, Rabbi Tuly Weisz, head of Israel365, leaped into action, organizing a fund-raising effort.
“We immediately reached out to our readership who responded very generously,” Rabbi Weisz told Breaking Israel News. He then reached out to Reverend Rebbecca Brimmer, International President and CEO of Bridges for Peace. “Reverend Brimmer did not hesitate. She offered to match whatever help we gave.”
In fact, Bridges for Peace went quite a bit further. On Monday, Rabbi Weisz and Reverend Brimmer went to the Ben Shemen Youth Village in Yad Binyamin where the residents of Mevo Modi’im are being housed to assess the situation and to determine how they could best help. Though their basic daily necessities were taken care of, there was only one computer available for all of the 50 families housed there. Far from being a luxury item, computers were essential. Most of the families are from the U.S. and the computers are the best way to communicate with their families. Many people run their businesses from a computer. When she heard of this, on the spot Reverend Brimmer pledged to provide each family with a laptop computer.
“They are homeless but it will be several months until they can start rebuilding their lives,” Reverend Brimmer explained. “For now, the computers will be the best way we can help them improve their lives.”
Bridges for Peace ordered the computers and it is estimated that they will be given to the people of Mevo Modi’im by the end of the week.
“This is the first phase,” Reverend Brimmer said. “These people literally lost everything. We have alerted our network around the world. We will, God willing, be helping them along the way.”
Reverend Brimmer described how, during her visit to the burned-out ruins, a young mother with four children was sifting through the ashes. The young woman left the ruins of her home to hung Reverend Brimmer in thanks for her efforts.
“We both had tears in our eyes,” Reverend Brimmer related. “It was a tragedy but it was also a miracle. With ten minutes warning, the entire community made it to safety. It would have been a far greater tragedy if anyone had been hurt.”
Many of the residents are artists. Art studios containing years of work were burned to the ground. Benzion Solomon is a musician who was a pioneer of modern religious music. His sons have gone on to perform all around the world. His studio, containing instruments, recording equipment, and recordings that were the products of hundreds of hours of work, was entirely destroyed. Several other musicians also lost the precious tools of their trade.
In another encounter with a resident who had just visited the burnt shell of his house, Reverend Brimmer connected the event to a verse in Isaiah.
When you pass through water, I will be with you; Through streams, They shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, You shall not be scorched; Through flame, It shall not burn you. Isaiah 43:2
Despite his difficulties, the man agreed.
“He told me that everyone absolutely knew that Hashem (God, literally ‘the name’) was with them every step of the way,” Reverend Brimmer said.
Though the destruction was nearly complete, one of the few buildings left relatively untouched was the ornately decorated synagogue along with the holy books and the sacred Torah scrolls.
“Maybe this is to remind people that worship of God is important,” Reverend Brimmer said. “It is something we all share.”
Reverend Brimmer sees this type of project as a spiritual imperative for Christians.
“I am one Christian woman,” she said. “But I represent thousands of Christians all around the world who care enough about Israel to reach into their pockets. This answers a physical need but it comes from a very deep place in our souls.”
“Bridges for Peace is all about building strong and respectful relationships between Christians and Jews all over the world,” she said. “A large part of that is educating Christians with one goal being that they can go out and do hasbara (advocate for Israel). We need to ensure that what happened between our communities in the past will never happen again. We tell our Christian friends that it is not enough to change their hearts. Now they have to change their actions. Reaching out with love and support for Israel and the Jewish people, especially in their time of need, is how we can do that.
The community of Mevo Modiin was founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, known as the singing rabbi. His brand of Judaism, based on love and inclusion, attracted many from the hippie counterculture in the 1960’s. Many young Jews came to his small synagogues in New York City and San Francisco called “The House of Love and Prayer.” Many of these people followed him to Israel, settling in Mevo Modiin in 1975 when the region was largely unsettled. The group is a collection of eclectic individuals, including musicians, artists, organic farmers, wine makers, perfumers, and Torah scholars. Their hand-painted synagogue, itself a work of art, was filled with joyous service based on the songs of Rabbi Carlebach.
Unusually high temperatures generated dangerous conditions leading to more than a thousand fires being reported last weekend destroying more than 3,700 acres of forest. Fire authorities now suspect the fire that destroyed Mevo Modi’im the result of arson.
Those who wish to help can donate here.