Just before dawn on Nov. 25, internationally renowned artist Yoram Raanan was in his studio when his wife called, urging him to evacuate immediately due to fire. He had been sleeping — he often spent the night in the studio, about 150 feet from his home in Moshav Beit Meir near Jerusalem, when he needed to get an early start in the morning — and assumed she was being overly cautious.
When Meira called, Raanan, 63, told NJJN, he thought “maybe it was an overreaction. But when I walked outside, I saw burning leaves falling into the studio, and fires burning across the street.”
The artist, originally from Bloomfield, grabbed his keys and wallet, jumped in his car with Meira, and fled toward the moshav exit. Though they were temporarily out of danger, they were unable to escape the moshav immediately as the fire had forced police to close off the exit. During the wait, the couple and 150 other families from the moshav watched in horror as flames engulfed Raanan’s studio. Their home, fortunately, was untouched, but 40 years of his life’s work — paintings valued at approximately $2 million — were destroyed. The fire took place 40 years almost to the day of his arrival in Israel from New Jersey.
The brush fire was one of more than 1,700 that swept across Israel between Nov. 18 and 26, according to Yoram Levy, spokesman for Israel Fire Services. Many, including the one at Moshav Beit Meir, are being investigated as possible arson.
“I thought to myself, “Well, that’s that. It happened,” said Raanan, a graduate of Bloomfield High School and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Formerly known by his American name, Eliot Scott, he attended Temple B’nai Zion in Bloomfield — which merged with Temple Menora to form Temple Ner Tamid in 1980 — as well as Prozdor High School, affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He and Meira have four children and six grandchildren in Israel.
Raanan lost about 1,500 paintings on canvas and 2,000 works on paper; catalogues of exhibitions, magazine articles, photographs, and an extensive collection of books and music. He also lost all the files on his computer.
Among the destroyed artwork is a series of paintings depicting weekly Torah portions, which he had been saving for a major exhibition; every week leading up to the exhibit, the Jerusalem Post had published a photo of the individual painting pertaining to that week’s parsha. Also ruined was a Watershed painting project he was working on for the 2017 Jerusalem Biennale.
Raanan has paintings on exhibit at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem, the Wolfson Museum of Jewish Art in Jerusalem, and in galleries and private collections around the world.
“The money is not the primary loss,” said Raanan. “What’s lost is the historical fact of the artwork to share.”
He acknowledged somewhat of a silver lining, in that media coverage of the loss has increased awareness of his work.
“I feel somewhat lucky that I didn’t have to die to become famous,” he said with a laugh. “I am trying to focus on the positive aspect and am looking forward to starting anew and rebirthing.”