July 18, 2019

Israeli fire fuels his determination to stay put

Around 9:30 a.m., we began to smell smoke in our business near Haifa. We figured that there was a fire nearby, but we could not see where. With every passing moment, the smoke got thicker. We learned that there was a fire in a neighborhood about a mile from us, where the forest was on fire. The way the city is built, there are many green spaces in between neighborhoods.

I got a call from my wife, Debbie, telling me that she was rushing to our friend Barbara’s house, whose garden was on fire. Her house is on the front line where the fire started. She got there just in time to evacuate their dog and valuables and bring them to our house, which was still far from the center of the fire.  

We then heard that our daughter Shani’s high school was being evacuated. I thought at first that this was a precautionary measure, but I soon got word that parts of the school were on fire. With the high winds, the fire was literally jumping from neighborhood to neighborhood. We started seeing people fleeing their homes, wandering aimlessly in the street, not knowing where to go.  My business partner and I decided to let people into our building for refuge. Soon thereafter we were “hosting” about 30 people.  

Fires began erupting on the street below our office. We were concerned that burning embers would ignite trees or buildings nearby, or even our building. But we decided to stay put. Deb called around noon to tell me we lost power at the house. Police began a mandatory evacuation of all neighborhoods on Mount Carmel near us, which affected 70,000 people. Foolishly or not, we decided to stay.

More and more people started coming to us. I then got a disturbing call from the Conservative Synagogue that it was on fire, and we needed to come quickly to save the Torahs. I rushed there to find the second floor of the building totally destroyed (that is where Shani’s kindergarten was), and I took one of the scrolls to our house (we divided the five scrolls among different houses, in the event that any homes should catch fire).

Although we had no power and we were told to evacuate, we decided to stay and sleep at home. The next day, power was restored at 7 a.m., and I was back in the office, open for business.

And now I will stand on my soapbox. This was not a natural fire. This was deliberately started, and not by a pyromaniac. This terrorist event happened in a city that is known for and is a model for coexistence. The location was not chosen by chance. This morning, our city woke up to a new day. It is hard to be an advocate for peace when acts like this take place. We are not going to be pushed out of our homes, not by suicide bombers, not by rockets from Hezbollah, and not by terrorists who want to burn me out of my home. As much as I want to live with my neighbors in peace, I will protect my home and my homeland, and to those who came to burn us, I have one thing to say: No matter what we do or say, you will always want to destroy us, and though I yearn for peace to reign in this area, I will also continue fighting for my right to live here.

Former Angeleno Ethan Kushner lives in Haifa, where he founded and runs EDK Consulting.