Can you believe it is that time of the year again? Candles, sweets, family time: Christmas and Hanukkah are festival of light and miracles.
So I started off to write a post about this special time of the year. But this time Hanukkah turned into a day of mourn for the State of Israel. While families were lighting their 3rd candle of the eight-day celebration, a huge fire was destroying Israel’s most beautiful forest on the Carmel mountains. Just as I write this post, the flames are reaching the University of Haifa, after ravaging through thousands of acres of immaculate forest and burning down half of the beautiful kibbutz of Beit Oren. 17.000 people, among which many friends from the village of Ein Hod, are spending their second night out of their homes, having been evacuated 24 hours ago.
This is no doubts the largest wildfire in Israeli history. Firefighters seem unable to control the vastness and strength of the fire, that is spreading fast on a vegetation which have virtually seen no rain for months (November went into records as the driest month in 60 years). After two days of battling, in spite of the aid of foreign planes which have so far arrived from Cyprus, Turkey, Spain, Russia, Greece, Croatia ad Egypt, the situation seems to be only getting worse.
Eye-witnesses talk of apocalyptic sights, with 40 meters high flames bursting unpredictably, blown out of proportions by strong winds. As talks of negligence in the handling of the situation are starting to take form – why was the fire not controlled before it escalated, why are there not enough fire-control forces and why they were not better coordinated, why a dry country like Israel has a much lower ratio of fire-fighters per person than most of European countries – there are two things that will clearly not be coming back: the beauty of this beloved nature reserve, and the life of the 40 victims who perished in an horrible way while being trapped in a bus during a rescue operation. A friend has just notified via SMS that one of the victims was her cousin. Every hour seems to be carrying more and more sad news.
While I grew to love the lighting of the candles during this generally happy festival, my heart is aching to even look at fire, even that of such small four flames, which carry a fraction of the same immense power.
I wanted to go up to Haifa to get some first-hand report, but after hearing of the fire, I had what I would call an unexpected domestic incident: I stumbled on our lovely cat (while walking backwards) and I fell right to the floor hitting my head badly. So I ended up in the emergency room with a bottle of Limoncello pressed on my front, trying to control the swelling. While I waited for hours to get my head scanned, I stared hypnotized at the images of the fire on a big screen, interrupted by the usual flow of trauma victims, old people dying, over-worked nurses and even a surrealistic visit of black dressed Orthodox Jews, who tried to cheer the sick by singing songs and distributing sufganyots (a sort of heavy loaded krapfen, typical of Hanukka).
It was a strange day indeed.