“There’s a fire,” my manager mumbled as if she was a ticker at the bottom of screen. It was a side note, a distraction, a newsfeed update not worth recounting.
It was something to take the focus off of all the other open tabs on her screen so she could collect her thoughts, regroup.
I didn’t need to ask. In under 30 seconds I had the Times of Israel open.
It was near Zichron Yakov.
Nothing to worry about.
It was dry out.
Forrest fire season.
It would go away.
This is a small country.
From the rim to the tip is a six hour drive. You’ll meet your cousin’s barber’s doctors madrichah from that trip you took seven years ago on the road along the way.
She’ll give you a lift somewhere. You’ll find out she’s married to the minister who spearheaded the creation of your kids school.
See? Small. Tiny. (To the point where I heard a Dutch hipster tourist who was making cash by dog walking in central Jerusalem say that ‘in Israel everyone is like one big family’. It’s obvious to everyone, apparently.)
So when we woke up the next day and heard the fire had spread, our murmurs grew into clear voices.
Still rational, but clearer.
They were farther north. Everything would be ok.
Until it wasn’t.
Because what started off as nature became arson.
And then suddenly, Haifa, haifa habibi, was engulfed.
Nataf, Beit Meir, Neve Shalom…town after town, cities, devastated.
And I was safe in Jerusalem.
My best friend lives in Haifa. Though I felt oddly detached from everything I had the sense to get in touch with her. She was panicking. She was safe, but any breeze could be the advent of something sinister.
Where do you go, when the terror uses nature to chase you from the surface of the green earth?
I told her to stay calm. To come to me. I had no car. Roads were closed. People were being evacuated.
I had another friend visiting who had stopped in Haifa before she had planned to come to see me in Jerusalem.
How do I get out? She texted me.
I have no battery left on my phone?
I was at work, reading maps, heart beating, wondering what real fear tasted like. The kind people probably experienced before phones.
I told her what bus to take, I tried navigating her. Left, this street. Trumpeldor, it’s Trumpeldor.
The smoke. You could see the smoke. She told me, short of breath, as she run towards a kikar.
I couldn’t see the smoke. I couldn’t see the fire. I couldn’t see the desolation.
I sat detached in Jerusalem.
She got to me safely but the flames continued to burn over the mountainside.
On that Erev Shabbt, my mother called me crying. She was devastated and hollowed out by crying. That was almost the fifth day of the nationwide fire. She had also called my friend to ascertain if she was ok.
So why was she crying?
My mother felt something I couldn’t. She let her heart break. The land is burning, she said.
I didn’t lose sleep, I didn’t cry.
I worried. I opened my home to someone who was planning on coming anyway. There was no sacrifice, only slight concern, and a dull sort of pain.
But I couldn’t cry.
I still can’t quite understand.
When you’re far away, maybe you see the desolation on a total scale. In my microscopic existence, I only felt it, saw it at the points at which it touched me.
My mom saw info graphics of all the foreign country sending aid, of all the firefighters, both Israeli and Palestinian, working tirelessly, without sleep, to battle the flames.
She heard her son’s old yeshivah went up in smoke.
She heard a holocaust survivor’s home was obliterated.
I sat worrying about getting to work on time and who I could donate money to.
And she, 3, 000 miles away, cried.
The flood after the storm comes in different forms.
It is not the redemptive water that saves us from spiralling into destruction.
It is the people who start baying for blood and pointing fingers. It’s the people who targeted the well meaning posters on Facebook who uploaded a picture of Israeli and Palestinian firefighters eating together after working side by side for days on end.
All the acts of kindness from strangers who took people in, who drove to the scenes to distribute blankets and water, all the firefighters who rushed towards the flames in unparalleled acts of bravery, are screamed out, are diluted by the flood of words.
Maybe that’s why I can’t cry.
Because I don’t want revenge. They’ve been hurt too. I want unity. I want justice but I also want mercy. I want peace. I want to see green.
I want to move on.
I don’t want to arise in blood and fire.
I want to laugh like Rabbi Akiva did when he saw the fox and laughed, when he saw the hope in the destruction that we would build again and that the divine would rest here again.
After this fire and this flood I remember that I may not be brave or selfless, but I am one of the humans who hopes and laughs in the face of destruction.
Tomorrow hakol i’yeh b’seder.
Yesh mi’sheuhu l’mallah.
“If this is to end in fire
Then we should all burn together
Watch the flames climb high into the night
Calling out father, stand by and we will
Watch the flames burn auburn on the mountain side
Oh, should my people fall
Then surely I’ll do the same
Confined in mountain halls
We got too close to the flame
Calling out father hold fast and we will
Watch the flames burn auburn on the mountain side
Desolation comes upon the sky
Now I see fire, inside the mountain
I see fire, burning the trees
I see fire, hollowing souls
I see fire, blood in the breeze
And I hope that you’ll remember me”~ Ed Sheeran, I See Fire