The Jewish Federations of North America and their overseas partners JDC and the Jewish Agency are mobilizing on the ground in Israel, in response to the massive forest fires raging in the north.
JAFI was working with youth movements to open camps for displaced children on Friday; to make up to 1,000 shelter beds available for displaced families; and to begin outreach to victim families.
JDC’s Emergency Response Team was activated, working with local Israeli authorities to monitor the situation, especially focused on the most vulnerable including the elderly.
Federations also responded across the spectrum in their own ways, some opening emergency mailboxes. Those who wish to can donate to a special JFNA emergency fund. Checks should be sent to the Israel Forest Fire Disaster Relief Fund, and made payable to The Jewish Federations of North America, care of: Wall Street Station, PO Box 148, New York, NY 10268. Funds can also be donated online at this dedicated page.
JFNA also created this special information resource page on the crisis, which includes news stories and other resources, and will be updated. JFNA continues to monitor the situation and will keep Federations updated as details are available.
The fires, which began outside the Druze village of Usfiya on Thursday morning after a major heat wave, spread across the Carmel Mountain region and sent massive plumes of thick smoke into the sky. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate and dozens died when they were trapped in the flames.
Several kibbutzim and villages, including Nir Etzion, Ein Hod, Ein Hid and Beit Oren and the Druze village of Isfiyeh, as well as the Carmel Forest Hotel, were evacuated Thursday afternoon. Haifa University was also evacuated. Tragically, a bus carrying 40 wardens to the Damon Prison near Kibbutz Beit Oren to help evacuate Israeli and Palestinian prisoners was engulfed in wind-driven flames and the passengers died instantly. The head of Haifa Police, Deputy Commander Ahuva Tomer, was critically burned and rushed to Rambam Medical Center.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited a forward command center in Haifa, and called the fire “unprecedented.” He was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying, “We have never known a tragedy of this scope.” Prime Minister Netanyahu said the focus was on keeping people out of the fire zone and extinguishing the blaze. Greece, Cyprus and Spain were sending firefighting aircraft in response to appeals, he said, while Israel continue to speak with officials in Jordan, Russia and elsewhere for support.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak mobilized Israeli troops to assist firefighting efforts as well. Netanyahu said he would convene his Cabinet Friday morning to brief them on the crisis.