As Israeli fire crews, backed up by a multinational team of tanker aircraft and rescue services, worked the last remnants of a blaze that by Sunday had charred more than 12,000 acres, the 17,000 people displaced by the country’s worst natural disaster in modern history turned to the formidable task of piecing their lives back together.

All across Israel over the weekend, one found stories of assistance rendered selflessly, doors flung open to evacuees, and hot food and warm beds offered graciously. For the most part, those from the stricken areas in and around Haifa and the dozens of villages dotting the charred Carmel Forest sought refuge with family and friends. Students, however, found rooms at a handful of Chabad-Lubavitch centers, while their hosts fed and inspired those on the fire lines.

“There’s going to be a deep need for ongoing help,” surmised Chana Dunin, co-director of the Achuzat Karmel branch of Chabad-Lubavitch of Haifa. “We’re visiting hospitals, and are letting everyone know that we’re here to help with food, diapers and other assistance.”

Her husband, Rabbi Yehuda Dunin, said that the Chabad House was working with the Welfare Department to find long-term shelter for people, in addition to ensuring that those affected by the fires were still able to derive some measure of enjoyment from the eight-day holiday of Chanukah that began Wednesday night.

“In spite of it all, there was a very warm atmosphere over Shabbat,” said the rabbi, who hosted eight students.

Elsewhere, families and friends mourned the deaths of 42 people, the vast majority of whom had perished when a bus carrying prisons service personnel was engulfed by quickly-moving flames Thursday.

Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Lison, director of Chabad of the Western Carmel, lamented the death of a Yitzchak Malina, a police officer he described as a good friend.

“They only identified his body Shabbat morning. Another officer died with him,” said Lison. “Last night I went to console his wife and kids. It’s really very difficult. I taught his son for his Bar Mitzvah.”

An Israeli fireman dons the Jewish prayer boxes known as tefillin during a break in the fight. (Photo:
An Israeli fireman dons the Jewish prayer boxes known as tefillin during a break in the fight. (Photo:

Throughout the stricken north, the Chabad Terror Victims Project used its expertise in dealing with trauma victims and their families to set up humanitarian aid efforts.

“We have 9 centers in the vicinity which are open day and night to assist the bereaved, the misplaced families and the rescue forces,” said the organization’s associate director, Rabbi Yossi Swerdlov.

Near Haifa’s Technion University, Rabbi Yossi Rosenberg reported that students there were “ready to help in whatever way they could.”

“We’re trying to raise the spirits of the rescue forces,” he said. “They appreciate the warmth and love.”