Fires out in Israel, it's time to rebuild


Bruce Gould (r) stands with Chief Israel Officer Eric Michaelson (l), and Israeli Fire Fighter Natan in the village of Beit Mehert, which took the brunt of some of the most serious fires.

Following six days of devastating fires that ravaged Israel, Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) is stepping up fundraising efforts to raise the many millions of dollars needed to help the nation recover. Since Tuesday, Nov. 22, approximately 10,000 acres of forests have been destroyed by fires. Some 137 people have suffered fire-related injuries. At least 569 homes burned down throughout Israel and in Haifa alone, more than 700 homes were damaged, 37 were destroyed, 400 are uninhabitable, and 75,000 residents were evacuated.

"For a week our beloved homeland was engulfed in devastating fires forcing hundreds of families to abandon their homes on the front lines," said JNF-USA CEO Russell F. Robinson. "We are on the ground in Israel every day improving lives, but now we are needed more than ever. To answer the great need, we have launched a special campaign for the intensive reforestation of areas destroyed by fires, as well as critically needed firefighting trucks and equipment."

Local resident Bruce Gould, who is serving as the National Major Gifts chair for JNF, visited a site in Beit Mehert-one of the hardest hit areas in the greater region of Jerusalem. After seeing so much fire damage, he realized that Israel was not properly prepared for this kind of catastrophy. Standing with Israeli firefighters, he shared on YouTube the devastation caused by arson at the village he was in.

"I'm privileged to come here to see a little bit of the devastation," he said. "Something like this could have been avoided if we had the proper equipment and, yes, we've done a lot to minimize the damage by providing the firefighters with the necessary equipment, but it's not enough.

"Israel is our home," he continued. "And we planted trees and we made them grow. We watered them, but now they need our help to continue to make this a home-make it safe for everybody and I ask you to come along with me today to try to do more."

JNF-USA's partners involved in the firefighting efforts include Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF), Israel Firefighters and Rescue Services, Green Horizons, Gush Etzion, Halutza, HaShomer HaChadash, JNFuture Israel, LOTEM, Makom, Nefesh B'Nefesh, Tor Hamidbar, Western Galilee Now, and others. All have been working around the clock helping those impacted by the fires.

Daniel Atar, KKL-JNF Chairman of the Board of Directors commented, "As the principal caretaker of the land of Israel, this event has been especially brutal not only for the many thousands of residents forced to leave their enflamed homes, but also because of the destruction it caused to the environment and landscape. For more than a century, KKL-JNF has planted and cared for 250 million trees that have made Israel the green fertile country it is. This fire set us back many years and it will take a lot of time and effort to rebuild and regrow."  

Yoram Levy, national spokesperson for the Israel Firefighters and Rescue Services said that this series of fires were some of the worst the country ever experienced. "What made this incredibly difficult to fight, more so than the Carmel fire in 2010, was the number of blazes that took place simultaneously all across Israel," said Levy. "We had every firefighter across the country fighting the fires and witnessing extensive damage to infrastructure, housing, and land from the north to the south and east to west. Thankfully, we experienced no casualties among our members and are now returning to normal conditions but now we have to look to the future and order many tons of new equipment to replace what we lost." 

JNF-USA's fundraising efforts include raising $10,000,000 to purchase firefighting apparatus (550 new trucks needed), equipment and gear, and staffing rangers for the Elite Forest Protection Unit, a new watchtower in Helez, and drones. Additionally, funds are being raised to assist JNF-USA partners including Nefesh B' Nefesh, LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible, Gush Etzion, and Green Horizons.


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