Students bemoan fires in northern Israel

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Disaster began Thursday, effected mass evacuations; 41 lives lost in catastrophe

Although a massive fire ravaged northern Israel, taking 41 lives, students can feel its impact in Austin.

The fire, which prompted mass evacuations, started Thursday morning in the Carmel Mountains in the country’s northern region. Most of the 41 dead are police guards traveling on a bus to help evacuate a nearby prison that the fire was approaching.

In the spring, government senior Zach Garber will study abroad at the University of Haifa, from which police evacuated students last week and used as a command center. The university has not suffered any damage as a result of the fire, which began on Dec. 1, the first night of Hannukah.

“Hanukkah is supposed to be a joyous holiday,” Garber said. “Unfortunately, the holiday has turned far more contemplative this year, as we grapple with the death and destruction wrought by the fires in northern Israel.”

He said that it is a common Jewish practice to recite the entire Book of Psalms during times of crisis.

“I think that while over 50 percent of the Mount Carmel forest has burned, the resiliency of the Jewish people throughout our history has shown that we will use this opportunity to rebuild and grow stronger as a community,” Garber said.

Noah Meicler, a junior at St. Edwards University, is raising money to aid the clean-up and humanitarian efforts. He has been encouraging people to text “JNF” to the number 20222. Proceeds will benefit the Jewish National Fund, an Israeli charity that focuses on infrastructure development.

For Meicler, the fire’s proximity to Hannukah is ironic.

“Hannukah is supposed to be this resilient holiday of how the Jews lasted and revolted,” said Meicler. “It is devastating that so many people have died and the Carmel Forest was hand planted by my grandfather and a bunch of other people.”

For the past year, psychology freshman Caroline Mendelsohn lived in the youth village Yemin Orde, which the fire partially destroyed.

“This village was my home for five months, so I am personally distraught over the destruction, but my feelings cannot compare to those who live in the village for years,” Mendelsohn said. “All of the children had to be completely evacuated and relocated and no one had any idea what they would be coming back to, or if they would be coming back to anything at all.”

Mendelsohn said many of her friends have evacuated or opened their homes to those the fire displaced.

“It is not an easy time for anyone in Israel,” Mendelsohn said. “Everyone is like family, and so for one part of the family to have been destroyed by the fire, everyone else feels the pain as well.”

UT alumna Dalia Galpern just returned to the United States from living in Israel for four years. Her first visit was with UT’s study abroad department.

“A friend of mine got married 15 minutes away from Haifa and the wedding hall where she got married, which is in the middle of the forest, burned down,” Galpern said. “You just want to help any way you can and it’s hard to be away when all of your friends are there and you feel like you can’t really help.”