Canadian Jewish groups mount effort to help Alberta fire evacuees


Jewish groups in Canada’s Alberta province have joined the efforts to support victims of the wildfires that have been raging in the area for a week and forced the evacuation of an entire city.

The Calgary Jewish Federation announced it will donate $25,000 from its emergency relief fund to assist the citizens of Fort McMurray, who were forced to flee their homes on May 4 after the Alberta provincial government declared a state of emergency. Some 90,000 people in the city were displaced in the wake of the fires, which have been burning and spreading for the past week.

The Jewish Federation of Edmonton also opened a PayPal account in order to collect donations for those affected by the fires.

Ve’ahavta, a Toronto-based social service organization whose programs include international crisis response, also launched a Fort McMurray relief fund last week, according to the Canadian Jewish News. The group said it would funnel the donations to established groups in the area such as the Red Cross and United Way in keeping with its mandate, the Jewish News reported.

The Israeli humanitarian aid charity IsraAid told the Jewish News that it already had a volunteer on the ground in Alberta to assess evacuees’ needs and would be sending a team to Canada for the first time.

Local synagogues also reportedly are raising money to help assist the evacuees.

The fire continued to burn on Sunday, a week after it started near Fort McMurray in northeast Alberta a week earlier. The blaze reportedly is moving southeast toward the nearby province of Saskatchewan to an area that is less populated.

Fort McMurray is the center of Canada’s oil sands region, which manufactures about 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. The production was taken offline as of Friday, according to Reuters.

The Alberta government estimated on Saturday night that the fire had so far consumed 500,000 acres, an area the size of Mexico City.

Insurance losses could go higher than $7 billion, Reuters reported.

On the eve of evacuation, Migron projecting tranquility


Off a rough, paved road atop a mountain, on the thin stucco wall of a trailer home, black graffiti proclaims “Private Jewish land.” And underneath, in red, “Migron.”

The trailer home is among dozens in Israel’s largest settlement outpost, deep in the central West Bank and not far from the Palestinian metropolis of Ramallah. To reach Migron, cars must exit a main highway and ascend a twisting road that barely has room for two lanes.

Founded more than a decade ago, Migron remains unrecognized by Israel’s government. Security forces plan to evacuate most of its 50 families on Tuesday based on an Israeli Supreme Court decision that they are living on private Palestinian land.

But as bulldozers dig at the bottom of the mountain, installing new government-approved trailers for the soon-to-be evacuees, Migron persists in tranquility. Children crowd around a plastic airplane. A pregnant mother loads her car. Workers rest in front of a warehouse. 

A woman leaves the trailer emblazoned with graffiti and walks through a yard of gravel, dirt, litter and toys. About an hour later, the black and red writing is covered by a whitewashed square incongruous with the trailer’s off-white and brown exterior.

The sense of calm, and the whitewashing, are intentional. Even as they are locked in a fight with the government to maintain a settlement far from Israel’s recognized borders, Migron’s residents do not speak of ideology or biblical promises. Rather they portray themselves as nothing more than a coalition of citizens, loyal to the country, that is fighting to preserve its democratic rights through legal means. Graffiti is not part of that strategy.

“We try to work only with democratic tools in a good, just system,” said Elisheva Razvag, a 27-year-old mother of two and one of the only residents authorized to speak to the media. “The state broke the rules in acting like this.”

Razvag hopes that the Supreme Court will approve a petition on Tuesday allowing some of Migron’s families to stay, and that in fact the entire evacuation will be delayed. But should the residents have to leave, Razvag said “it’s possible that part of the settlement will move” to the newly built trailers.

Asked about possible violent settler opposition to an evacuation—as has happened elsewhere—she would say only that the community is waiting on the court’s decision.

“We are also the state,” she said. “I have no other place.”

Although only a fragment of an Israeli flag remains flying on a lamppost above the main road, Razvag said it was not torn down in protest. Rather, she said, Migron raised many flags for Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day in the spring, and some have since been damaged naturally. A full flag flies on a post down the road.

But beyond the end of Migron’s main road and across a rocky field, loyalty ends and open ideology begins. A shack built of thin wood panels and a corrugated tin roof stands in defiance not just of the state but also of Migron’s residents. On one of the walls, green and red grafitti quotes Rabbi Hillel of the Mishna: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?”

There will be no whitewashing here.

This cabin is the latest iteration of Ramat Migron, an outpost that the government has evacuated and demolished multiple times. Both Migron’s residents and a young man from Ramat Migron stress that despite being adjacent to each other, the two have no connection. Razvag and Itai Chemo, Migron’s spokesperson, say they haven’t been to Ramat Migron in at least a year, and do not communicate with its residents.

Nor do they share common cause. Unlike Migron, whose continued existence depends on government recognition, Ramat Migron is a project of the Hilltop Youth, a group of young, ideological settlers who build outposts in spite of Israeli law.

With thick payos hanging from his light brown hair and a black velvet kippah perched askew on his head, the man wore dark green pants, sandals and a gray t-shirt that said “Jews buy from Jews.”

“The most important thing is to build the Holy Temple,” he said. He added that he was not a Zionist.

“We’ll watch,” said the young man of how he would react to a government evacuation of Migron. And if the bulldozers come to his cabin? “War.” Ramat Migron’s lack of weapons did not seem to bother him.

“We’re two different places,” Razvag said, “definitely two different places.”

Israel’s Supreme Court wants answers on outpost evacuations


Israel’s Supreme Court gave the government a week to report back on agreements reached on construction in outposts built on state land.

The Jan. 3 order came in response to the agreement struck between the state and the Ramat Gilad outpost in the northern West Bank. Under the agreement, the outpost would become part of the Karnei Shomron municipality, and five of its 10 caravans and several warehouses would be relocated to areas on the hill that are not considered private Palestinian property.

The parts of the outpost on private land had been scheduled to be razed by the end of 2011 by order of the Supreme Court.

The court granted the state’s request for an extension on razing several outposts, saying it wanted the issue to be resolved peacefully, according to Ynet. But the justices noted that the matter could not be put off indefinitely.

Meanwhile, a Knesset committee on Jan. 2 postponed debate on a bill that would require a Palestinian claiming ownership of land on which an outpost was to be built to prove his claim in court.

The bill had been dubbed the Migron bill, an effort to prevent the razing of the controversial Migron outpost. The Supreme Court has ordered the demolition of Migron by March.

The debate in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation has been postponed by three months, past the deadline for saving Migron.

Israel’s Supreme Court raps lack of outpost evacuations


Israel’s Supreme Court gave the government a week to report back on agreements reached on construction in outposts built on state land.

Tuesday’s order came in response to the agreement struck between the state and the Ramat Gilad outpost in the northern West Bank. Under the agreement, the outpost would become part of the Karnei Shomron municipality, and five of its 10 caravans and several warehouses would be relocated to areas on the hill that are not considered private Palestinian property.

The parts of the outpost on private land had been scheduled to be razed by the end of 2011 by order of the Supreme Court. The court granted the state’s request for an extension on razing several outposts, saying it wanted the issue to be resolved peacefully, according to Ynet. But the justices noted that the matter could not be put off indefinitely.

Meanwhile, a Knesset committee on Monday postponed debate on a bill that would require a Palestinian claiming ownership of land on which an outpost was to be built to prove his claim in court.

The bill had been dubbed the Migron bill, an effort to prevent the razing of the controversial Migron outpost. The Supreme Court has ordered the demolition of Migron by March.

The debate in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation has been postponed by three months, past the deadline for saving Migron.

Fire-Damaged Temples Take Stock


As 10 wildfires, which ravaged large areas of Southern California, were finally brought under control, Jewish communities joined fellow citizens in facing the aftermath of the painful human and property toll.

The worst damage was suffered by synagogue congregants in the San Bernardino and San Diego areas.

Preliminary figures in San Diego County showed that the homes of 30 Jewish families had been destroyed by the fires, and the final count may reach 60 homes, said Tina Friedman, spokesperson for the United Jewish Federation (UJF) of San Diego.

To the east of the city, in Scripps Ranch, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad Hebrew Academy was desperately searching for temporary classrooms, offices and equipment, lost when the fire torched all 20 of the academy’s trailers.

“We also need computers, desks and books,” Goldstein said. “We need everything.”

A new nearby Chabad building, surrounded by flames, was saved, but it won’t be ready for another two months.

The homes of six member families of Congregation Emanu El in San Bernardino burned down completely, but Rabbi Douglas Kohn expressed his gratitude for the instant response to the tragedy.

“We’ve have had checks from as far away as the Midwest, and calls from all over the world,” he said. “One temple sent over trays of sandwiches and cookies for Shabbat services. I tell you, in time of crisis, there is nothing anywhere like the Jewish community.”

In the Pomona-Claremont area, members of Temple Beth Israel suffered the loss of two destroyed and one damaged homes.

The stubborn fires in the Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead areas forced the evacuation of all residents, but no Jewish homes or institutions were damaged, said Mike Cross, president of the B’nai Big Bear congregation.

UJF is developing an extensive assistance plan. Forinformation, visit www.jewishinsandiego.com. To provideassistance, and for the location of various Chabad drop-off centers, visit, www.chabad.com .