For those who don't know us so well, I have decided to put up a few stories of some of our years here in Shaar Hagai, so that people can understand better our feelings for this place. So here is the first.
I was at work when I was called to the phone. My son-in-law, his voice shaken, was on the line with the terrifying announcement, “There is a forest fire all around the farm. We have been evacuated, and I’m afraid that everything is gone!” There was no time or possibility for more talking - all he could tell me is that he, my daughter, and the baby were safe, but that he had no idea what the situation was at home.
Within minutes, I was in the car, on the way home. It was early afternoon of a typical July day, exceedingly hot. Nothing appeared unusual until I was approaching Latrun, about seven kilometers from home, and was able to see the huge black cloud of smoke covering the sky ahead of me. I began hearing reports on the radio of a major forest fire burning out of control.
As I approached the Shaar Hagai junction - only two kilometers from there to home - I ran into a huge traffic jam. All traffic was at a standstill. Always very law abiding, this time I drove like I have never driven before, weaving from lane to lane around the standing cars, zooming down the road margins on both sides, anything I could think of to get to the end of the traffic jam and beyond, to get home!
At the Shaar Hagai junction, there was a police barricade - the reason for the traffic backup. No cars were being allowed through, and nothing was coming through in the other direction either. As I stopped next to the police cars blocking the road and looked ahead, I could see why. The forest was a wall of flames and smoke as far as I could see to both sides and ahead as well. The fire had jumped the road - a wide four-lane highway - and was raging through the beautiful but summer-dry pine forest, driven on its way by the wild “khamsin” wind of the unseasonably hot day. The pines were not burning, but exploding into flames, and the dry pinecones were catching on fire, bursting, and scattering the flames even further.
I begged the police at the barricade to let me through. My home is there, I told them, and my kennels, and there are animals there - many animals! They will die if I can’t get there to help them! But there was no way that they would consider letting me go through. Human life is more important than that of animals, they said. It was an inferno, and no one could go through.
I stood helplessly next to the police cars, hearing the reports coming through on the police radio, of the unbelievable conditions. The fire was totally out of control and raging onwards, driven by the unceasing wind. Settlements were being evacuated. Fire trucks came roaring through from all parts of the country. Helicopters began passing overhead with enormous containers of water to be poured on the flames from the sky.
I kept begging the police to let me through, and they refused. The weather was extremely hot - later it turned out to be the hottest day in years - but I never felt it. I couldn’t think of anything except the dogs, depending on me for everything, and abandoned there, alone and unprotected. I sat by the roadside and cried.
After about three hours, the flames, except for a few occasional flare-ups, were no longer visible from where we were. I spotted a police car coming up to the barricade from the direction of the fire and once again pleaded to be allowed to go to the farm.
The police officer finally agreed. He would take me in his car, with the warning that I was not to get out of the car, no matter what, without his permission. I would have agreed to anything just to get home.
Around us all was desolation and destruction. Everything was black and smoking, here and there flames still crackled. The beautiful forest was charcoal, with a few green branches, or an entire tree that by some miracle had been skipped over by the flames. It was hard to breath - a pall of acrid smoke and heat hung over everything.
We came to the dirt road entry to the farm and turned in. The police officer stopped the car and turned to me. “You know that what you see up there may be very difficult and even horrible,” he said. “I know”, I replied, “but I have to go up there.”
I ran down to the kennel first. Everything was silent - there was not a sound, not a bark or whimper. The lock on the gate was broken and the trees and tall grass and weeds behind the kennel and around the sides were burned and black. But the kennels themselves were untouched, the wooden doghouses were whole and unscorched, and the dogs were all right! They were pressed against the wall on the side as far as possible from where the fire had passed, huddling there in panic, not moving, but alive. Covered with soot, but happy to see me, they got up, shook off, and began to bark. Even the litter of two-week-old puppies was fine! The flames had reached the wall of the kennel, but wooden doghouses inside the kennel, not more than a meter or two from the flames, were undamaged.
I began counting heads. At first, all seemed to be accounted for, but then I found that one was missing - the four-month-old puppy who was due to go to a new home in a few days. She hadn’t come to greet me. I looked around the yard, in the pens, in the boxes - no sign of her. Where could she be?
Finally, I found her. She was on the porch at the side of the house, flattened to the floor, and pressed against the door of the house, afraid to move, afraid to answer my calls - but unhurt. Everyone was all right!
I entered the house. During all the time I was waiting to get past the barricade, I never once thought about the house and its contents burning, and now, when I entered the house, containing everything that I possessed in this world (and that not being very much either), it was the first that I realized that everything could have been lost.
But there was absolutely no damage. There was a bit of ash that had blown in through the windows, but the house wasn’t even particularly dirty.
Everything around was desolation. Where there had been a beautiful forest, there was only blackness now. The heat had been intense - so much so that a large heavy duty plastic shipping box that had stood outside the gate was not melted but actually vaporized - only a small pile of ash remained. The fire had burned everything up to the gate of the house, to the fence around the kennels - but had not crossed the fence line, and had continued on. In the midst of the black desert of ash, the garden of the house still remained green and flowering.
Why? Perhaps because I had always been scrupulous about keeping the dogs’ yards clean of thorns and weeds. Perhaps because we had tried to grow decent lawns and nice gardens, which were kept green and watered, even in the height of the long, dry summer. And perhaps because God laid his wet finger on the farm...