Last week, as a wildfire approached the gates of Mevo Modi’im, men ran from door to door, working desperately to evacuate the people. The residents managed to flee within just a few minutes, leaving their homes behind. Though Miraculously, not a single person was hurt as the fire engulfed the town. The story is an important example of how to act in such an emergency but the people involved credit the God of Israel for protecting them while seeing a positive message in the disaster.
Moshe Cohen heads the Civilian Emergency Response Team. At around two in the afternoon, his son came in for lunch and told his father that he had spotted smoke in the Ben Shemen Forest adjacent to the settlement. Cohen glanced outside and was shocked to see an abnormally large cloud of smoke rising in an area alarmingly close to the fence at the edge of town.
“I went up to the second floor and it looked even worse,” Cohen told Breaking Israel News. “The fire-fighting plane was already operating over the forest.”
Cohen called the fire department but they informed him that the fire was under control. He asked if he should evacuate the community but they advised against it. Cohen then called Sruli Solomon, a policeman who, as a resident, is responsible for the security of the community. As residents, they had experience with how quickly fires spread in the forest. After a quick consultation, the two decided to move forward and prepare for the worst. Through emergency communications systems that were in place, they advised the residents to prepare to evacuate. After only a few minutes, they realized that the fire had advanced even more. The message to evacuate was sent and the two men went from door to door, telling the people to evacuate immediately.
“Some people understood the gravity of the situation immediately,” Cohen said. “Other people took a little more time, actually a few moments of convincing, to realize that there was a serious threat from the fire. And some people needed help to leave.”
One young woman made several trips, driving people who had no car to safety at a nearby gas station.
“But it actually went very quickly and literally within a few minutes of deciding we needed to evacuate, maybe ten minutes total, the last people were going out through the front gate,” Cohen said.
Of the 50 homes in Mevo Modi’im, 40 suffered serious damage. Even the houses that were undamaged will be unlivable for at least six months as the infrastructure for water and electricity was destroyed and must be replaced before anyone can return.
The last person to leave was Solomon who returned to the synagogue to save the Torah scrolls.
“By that time, as we were taking out the last people, the fire was at the fence and was already burning some of the houses,” Cohen said. “It moved faster than anyone could believe.”
Cohen learned many lessons from the tragic experience, some practical and some spiritual.
“It is important to make that switch, to realize that there might be a problem and it is time to act,” he said.
The people were forced to flee with just the clothes on their backs. They returned to their homes, many to be greeted by piles of ashes. Most have to rebuild their lives from nothing. They are currently being housed in the Ben Shemen Youth Village in Yad BinyaminThey are currently being housed in Many people have approached Cohen and asked why such punishment should befall such a wonderful community of Jews dedicated to serving God.
“It is not, could not be, a punishment,” Cohen said. “It is an opportunity to start over, to begin anew, to do it the right way. We don’t deal with punishments. The community was destroyed but what will grow out of this will be even more beautiful, an even greater kiddush hashem (sanctification of God’s name).”
Bridges for Peace and Israel365 have partnered to help the people of Mevo Modi’im through this difficult period.
Many of the residents are artists. Art studios containing years of work were burned to the ground. Benzion Solomon, Sruli Solomon’s father, is a musician who was a pioneer of modern religious music. His sons have gone on to perform Jewish music 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.
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.
The community had an open-door policy and brought many people, Jew and non-Jew, closer to Torah with their unique brand of joyous service to God. This undoubtedly was an approach they learned from their ‘rebbe’ (spiritual teacher), Rabbi Carlebach. Known simply as ‘the Moshav’, the extended family of these very special Jews circles the globe.
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.
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