While the people of Mevo Modi’im are struggling to cope with the aftermath of a wildfire that left the entire community homeless, the Illowitz family is having the most difficult Father’s Day of their lives, spent praying that search teams (and Hashem) will return their father to them.
Three weeks ago, Jews around the world celebrated Lag Ba’omer, the 33rd day of the 49-day counting of the Omer between Passover and Shavuot. Many Jews celebrate the day with bonfires and barbecues. Mount Meron near Tzfat (Safed) is the focus of a mass pilgrimage with up to 250,000 people spending the night, praying and celebrating at the gravesite of the Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, known by the acronym of his name “Rashbi”, who passed away on that day. It is a night of great devotion and prayer. Moshe Eliezer Illowitz, a 37-year old father of five and a resident of Mevo Modi’im, traveled to the site the week before in preparation for the holiday.
On the Friday night before the holiday, Moshe prayed at the Tomb of the Rashbi but did not return to the place where he was staying. The family was supposed to join him In Meron on Sunday, but when his wife called him on Saturday night to finalize their plans, she did not receive an answer.
After three days, the Israel Dog Unit, headed by Mike ben Yaakov, was called in to help with the search, combing the forest surrounding the mountain. Ben Ya’akov noted that all of Illowitz’s personal items including his cellular phone tefillin (phylacteries), money and passport were found in the place where he was staying in Meron.
On the following Thursday morning, the morning after Lag Ba-Omer, arsonists set fires in the Ben Shemen forest surrounding the town, known simply as ‘the Moshav’. While frantically searching for her husband, Chaya Illowitz was forced to evacuate her home with her children, fleeing with only a few moments notice. They returned on Friday morning to find their home severely damaged by fire. The entire community was left homeless. As a temporary measure, the people are being housed in the dormitories of the Ben Shemen Youth Village in Yad Binyamin.
“We’ve been using Search and Rescue dogs (SAR),” explained Ben Yaakov. “There are still a lot of areas we want to cover. We have certainly not given up hope that we will find him.”
Chaya Illowitz has been coping with keeping her family housed and fed, though she and her son have joined search teams when they could.
“It is all about emuna (belief in God),” Chaya told Breaking Israel News. “Every day I have to push myself to get out of bed. I have to push myself and I do it, all for my children. We have hope that he will come back to us. We believe in Hashem and that everything is for the best but we have to go through whatever we have to go through. My children are amazing. They are very strong but they really miss their abba (father). We want am yisrael (the nation of Israel) to pray with us for him to come back to me and the children.”
According to Jewish tradition, prayers for mercy include the recipient’s name and his mother’s name. In this case, the public is requested to pray for Moshe Eliezer ben (the son of) Pearl Malkah Henya.
The Dog Unit is organizing a mass effort on Tuesday of 100 volunteers who will fill in all of the areas that have yet to be searched. The unit is also employing dogs that are specially training to find cadavers for a worst-case scenario.
Despite being hard-pressed after losing their home and all of their belongings, the family is offering a NIS 50,000 reward to anyone who finds Moshe.
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.