In case you didn’t know, the people of northern Israel suffered much trauma from 480 forest fires that burned for six days last week, forcing the evacuation from Haifa, Israel’s 3rd largest city, of 60,000+ people.
Thankfully, no lives were lost. But hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged before the fires could be contained. The Haifa synagogues of two of my Israeli colleagues and friends ‒ Congregation Or Chadash and Congregation Gesharim Letikvah ‒ were damaged. The fire made 2,000 Haifa residents homeless.
I would be happy to share with you after our service how you could participate in the humanitarian response to provide assistance, relief, and reconstruction to the families most in distress.
What I most want to share with you tonight is how many of Israel’s neighbors – including its Arab and Muslim neighbors ‒ helped to put out the fires. Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Romania, Spain, and Turkey all dispatched planes, helicopters, and firetrucks to battle the blazes. Cyprus sent 69 firefighters to help their Israeli counterparts. There were even 50 American firefighters who went to Israel to help.
Most significantly, 40 Palestinian firefighters, worked side by side with Israeli crews. When asked why he helped Israeli firefighters put out flames in Haifa and outside Jerusalem, one Palestinian firefighter said, ‘from our point of view, above all saving lives is what leads us, and so we decided to come. Our motivation is very high, and we’re happy to give help and human assistance.”
What could be more heartwarming than to see pictures of Palestinians saving the lives and property of Israelis and Israelis saving the lives and property of Palestinians?What could be more hope-inducing than to hear that Arab villages invited Israelis who had to evacuate from neighboring towns to come stay with them?
There will always be people who say there is no hope for peace between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. There will always be people who say Palestinians and Israeli Jews must hate each other. We should not believe them or listen to them. Rather let us find hope in the many Arab and Muslim countries who came to Israel’s help. Let us find inspiration in the courage and the compassion of those Israeli and Palestinian firefighters who worked side by side in common cause to save human life – all human life.
“Fire does not distinguish between Jews and Arabs.”