Firefighters’ families share the language of loss

Bat-Sheva and Hofit Hayat, mother and wife of deceased Israeli firefighter Danny Hayat, shared their story and grief with the families of the 19 Hotshot firefighters who died on June 30 in the Yarnell, Ariz., wildfire. The two women relayed their experience in Arizona when visiting Los Angeles as a last stop before returning to Israel. As native Hebrew speakers, Hofit and Bat-Sheva struggled to express themselves in English as tears streamed down their faces and sorrow filled their voices when talking about Danny in Los Angeles. They said a similar scene took place in Arizona, however, the Hayats were speaking a universal language families in Arizona understood: the language of loss.

The Hayats lost Danny to the Mount Carmel forest fire in Israel in December 2010, as the 44th and final victim. He died rescuing Israeli Prison Service and police officers from a bus near the fire. Bat-Sheva initially reached out in writing to the 19 families of the firefighters in Arizona to send her condolences and share her personal and very similar tragedy.

After the letter, Keren Hayesod, an Israeli nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the priorities of the State of Israel, paid for the Hayats to travel to Arizona. According to Bat-Sheva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also blessed the trip.

The Hayats said they felt they had to support the families of the fallen firefighters in Arizona. In sharing their pain and suffering, they hoped to bring power and solidarity to the community.

“I came here to strengthen the families and the American people, but they strengthened me,” Bat-Sheva said.

With this newfound strength came uncommon emotion. In Israel, Bat-Sheva said, she tried not to cry to avoid looking weak. In Arizona however, it was a different story. 

“I look at the families and I see myself. I cry for them and I cry for myself,” Bat-Sheva said with tears in her eyes.

Bat-Sheva mourned with the community in Prescott, Ariz., at the memorial service for the firefighters and was joined by Hofit at a commemoration organized by the Jewish Community Association on July 9. 

Hofit, Danny’s wife of nine years and significant other for 13, said she uses Judaism to deal with her loss. She tells her three children that “everything happens for a reason.” 

“I think this is the destiny of Danny. I think God brought him to that road because that was his mission in life,” Hofit said. 

Bat-Sheva remembers her son as a dedicated, loving and selfless individual. She and her daughter-in-law still marvel at his constant choice, in his career and in life, to serve others before himself. 

“Danny was the hero of the fire, a firefighter hero. But for us, Danny was a hero every day, every hour,” Bat-Sheva said. “He was our hero.”