Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Fire in Beit Oren Gave Birth to a Synagogue

This week's parsha sheet from Chabad has an interesting story - so interesting that I thought it was worthwhile to translate it into English:
It happened several days after the fire in the Carmel forest, exactly one year ago, where 44 people lost their lives and tens of houses were burnt down. A group of Jews from New Jersey visited Beit Oren, with the willingness to help rehabilitate the village.

Moti Dagon (53), one of the veteran members of the village and a professional tour guide tells us: "At the meeting the members of the delegation asked: 'What do you need? How can we contribute in order to start the rehabilitation?' The head of the village committee answered, 'We don't have a Torah scroll.' The others present agreed with him. The village exists 70 years, and there was never a synagogue or Torah scroll in it. Why didn't they request $10,000? That's hard for me to explain. It's astonishing."

Several months later one of the heads of the New Jersey congregations phoned the committee head. "Do you remember us from the visit?" he asked. "After much effort we succeeded in acquiring for you a Torah scroll that is 100 years old and we will send it to you soon", he said.

There was great excitement among the residents, but it was not complete, since they did not have a synagogue. "We asked ourselves: What good is a Torah scroll without a synagogue?" Dagon tells us. It did not take long before there was a surprising turn about. "A few days after we received the tidings one of the veteran members of the village, Mrs. Berta Ben-Chaim passed away. In her will she requested that a synagogue be opened in her home. The hand of Divine Providence was amazing - within a short time we received a Torah Scroll and a synagogue."

It was a festive day in the village when the synagogue was inaugurated and the Torah scroll was placed inside of it. "Everyone here cried in emotion", Dagon describes. "The event symbolized a new flowering, a new age. Now there are set prayers in the synagogue, mainly on the Sabbath, but perhaps that will expand in the future."

Dagon lives close to the synagogue. "In addition to the set prayers, the very presence of the synagogue in the village is heartwarming. It is something that we did not have, and now we understand how much it was lacking."

Even now, a year afterwards, the job of repairing and rehabilitating is still not over. "The government did not help us as much as they promised", protests Dagon. And as he speaks about the damage, he returns to that black night in the village. "We saw the fire approaching quickly. We did not appreciate its intensity. When the fire got close, it was too late. We tried to take our whatever was possible from the house. Everyone here fled, only we (a group of six residents - CX) stayed.

For hours we ran between the houses and extinguished the sparks - which saved many houses. In spite of the fire Dagon thinks that we must look forward: "Luckily, I did not lose my home, but my son's home went up in flames and there is nothing left of it. It is not simple to lose a home, but the people are continuing forward and are not stuck in the past."

Dagon says that when he lights the first Hanukkah candle, this week on Tuesday, he will say the words "sheAsa Nissim La'Avoteinu" (who performed miracles for our ancestors) with great intention. "A great miracle happened here. We lost our homes but we received a new life. There was a great danger to life here, but thank God nobody from the village was harmed."
Nice story, isn't it?

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