The tragic Carmel Forest Fire, which burned over 12,000 acres of forest, destroyed four million trees, and caused the death of 42 precious lives, displacing 17,000 people from their homes, and created a long-term, heart-breaking ecological and humanitarian disaster, is a time of sadness and mourning for all lovers of Israel This is a tragedy for those living within Israel’s borders and those in the galut, Jewish and gentile lovers of Zion alike.
At a funeral, a worthwhile eulogy teaches life lessons from the example of the deceased. At shiva, we should learn to appreciate life’s blessings, even in the face of loss. So, too, should this devastation be an opportunity to learn lessons and to ask probing questions:
In recent years, has the Jewish National Fund lost sight of their primary mission: being stewards of Israel’s trees and guardians of its forests? Has their work in creating roads, infrastructure, and building community centers and other projects diverted the funds necessary to assure that the forests and the land of Israel be preserved for future generations?
Has Israel’s “faith despite all odds” been, in fact, an obstacle to facing the stark reality that it cannot rely only on itself and must develop healthy relationships with other nations that require diplomacy, inter-dependence, and compromise on the world scene?
Have Israel’s past miracles blinded its government to the importance of prevention, the procurement of appropriate equipment for the annual fires that are part of Israel’s summer reality and that, with the effect of global warming, has morphed into a year-round calamity?
Has the Interior Ministry finally recognized that Israel’s ratio of firefighters to population and insufficient equipment must be dealt with as an immediate crisis that must be corrected?
Should Tu B’Shevat, as Israel’s chief forester has now suggested, be turned into a day to uproot and thin out and properly space trees to prevent future tragedies rather than simply planting more and compounding the errors of the past?
Have well-intentioned donors made certain that their donations will be appropriately used and done due diligence to ensure that their previous gifts were used judiciously?
I suggest that this time of crisis should be a time of stark analysis and introspection, investigation, and preparation for the next natural disaster.
Whether the enemy is an unwelcome earthquake or a political foe, we must be prepared and learn from our sorrowful experiences.
Rabbi Richard Hammerman