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by Danita Aziza, December 7, 2010

Tragedy anywhere can strike in a moment. In Israel, tragedy seems to strike all too often and unfortunately people here are all too used to absorbing horror and then picking themselves up and continuing on with life. They are not immune to the emotion that accompanies unbelievable horror, grief, loss and sadness. They just have to find a way to process it and then store it away like pictures kept in the back of a drawer to be visited from time to time.
As I drove on highway 4 from Raanana to Even Yehuda on December 2 at around 1:00 in the afternoon I was focused on which small gift to give the kids that night for Chanukka. As my mind was roaming, the news came on the radio and with my increasing vocabulary I was able to understand that something had happened that was serious, but I wasn’t quite sure what.. The sound of a siren was becoming audible and in my rear view mirror I could see a fire engine approaching the junction. Ambulances are commonplace on the roads here, but  fire engines less so. I returned home to check the news on-line and learn of the horror that was unfolding in the Carmel.
It is hard to glean anything good from such devastation both in human terms and from the precious nature that adorned the North of Israel. The lives of so many families are left as barren as the hillsides of the Carmel stripped of beauty and greenery, void of the serenity that was once there and now not. Nature can be restored in time, human life cannot. Too much loss has occurred for us not to be profoundly affected and perchance affected to seek some change in how we operate, both at the Government level, within communities, our own family units and deep inside ourselves.
To think that we spend so much time perfecting the outward expressions of ourselves and that so quickly such things can be snatched from our grasp like the act of snatching a dangerous object from the cupped hand of a toddler. Humanbeings  have  evolved from being hunters and gatherers of the necessities of life such as food and shelter to being gatherers of materialistic goods, purchasing this and that to adorn our bodies, our homes, our modes of transportation. Today, so many seem dissatisfied with merely what is of necessity, allured by modern day demands and desires to create more, achieve more, and obtain more. Simplicity has given way to sophistication and we are all to some extent guilty of being caught in the spiral of acquisition and accumulation.
While many live within a tight budget and have little room in their lives for excess, so many of us have far more than we actually need. We work hard to provide, to buy, to enjoy and then we fill our homes with things that we think we need, but don’t really. So much time we spend working to accumulate, deciding what to accumulate and then storing what we accumulate all of which can be taken from us in a moment as the fire in the Carmel illustrated all too well.
I sat watching the funeral of the now revered Head of the Haifa Police Department, Ahuva Tomer, who succumbed to the burns she received while trying to get to the flame engulfed bus on the Carmel rode. I had no knowledge of who she was merely a week ago and now I sat weeping for her like I had known her my whole life. Police officer after police officer spoke of Ahuva Tomer with deep respect, devotion and true affection recounting her remarkable rise through the police force, her strong leadership skills and the values that established her as an example for many to follow. At the end of the funeral I knew much about what Ahuva Tomer did in her 52 years to make the world, her country, her community a better place. I knew nothing of what she owned.
What seems abundantly clear to me is that the worth of a person’s life is measured not by what he owns, but by what he does. The satisfaction of coming to someone’s rescue, putting yourself out to help another, investing time and energy into worthwhile causes, and striving daily to become a better person is what makes life personally more rewarding and is by which the value of a life is measured. It isn’t wrong to accumulate things, and it is obviously part and parcel of modern life, but central to our being is the desire to be good and to be remembered as such after we are no longer here.
Michel and I left for Haifa this morning. The scenery along the road initially was as it always is, beautiful and green until we reached a certain point where the material devastation came into full view. Charcoal colored homes up on the hillside, blackened trees, burned banana plantations and areas that were once lush now gray. The smell of smoke seeped through the closed car windows and we rode in silence.
We made the long climb up the Carmel Mountain noting areas we could see in the distance that were obviously touched by fire. We made our way to Haifa University where we were delivering requested supplies of clothing, towels, soap and toiletries for those displaced by the fire. At the top of our climb we were greeted by young university students who had organized a relief effort and were gathering and distributing the things necessary to help those most affected restore some sort of order to their lives. The profound sadness and sense of loss we felt at the bottom of the mountain was now replaced with a sense of hope that somehow, just as the smell of stale smoke seeped through the car window, some good can seep through all of this. Somehow it must.  
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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