Lost Homes, Lost Memories

It is heartening that the Israeli government is moving swiftly to compensate those whose homes and businesses were destroyed in the devastating fires of this past week. We applaud Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon’s call for “zero bureaucracy” in getting aid to those who need it.

But homes are more than four walls and a roof. They’re more than a shelter. They are memories; in some cases, life-sustaining memories.

One elderly woman who lost her home in Haifa last Thursday was widowed just a few months ago. It was hard enough coping on her own when she had the familiarity of her home and neighbors, when she was surrounded by pictures and memorabilia that kept alive her connection to her husband. Now, at an advanced age, she is forced to cope with such questions as where does she sleep tonight? Whom does she call for help? She is forced to deal with insurance agents and assessors and building contractors and government agencies. And she has to do it all on her own.

Boaz Arnon, a resident of Neve Tzuf in the Shomron, lost everything in the fire that swept through his community on Shabbos night, even his tefillin. But what bothers him most is a gemara that survived Kristallnacht and was brought to Israel by a relative. The gemara survived the Germans, but not the Palestinian terrorist who tossed the Molotov cocktail that ignited the fire.

Nati Tessler grew up in Haifa. He and his five brothers all live a short distance from his mother’s apartment, the one that went up in flames last week. He used to stop by every morning to have a cup of coffee with his mother on her porch. The brothers used the apartment as a meeting place.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Nati shared that his grandfather had been in Auschwitz and was handed two drawings by an artist who was entering the gas chambers. One depicted a Shabbos scene, the other Yom Kippur. There were no faces of people. They were drawn using plants and roots that grew in the ground. His grandfather gave the pictures to his mother, instructing her to give them to Yad Vashem at the end of her life. They’re gone.

So is the Kiddush cup that his grandfather’s family buried before the war and dug up afterwards to bring with them to Eretz Yisrael.

Nati’s grandfather was a famous mohel in Haifa. Now he has no pictures of his grandfather, Reb Yitzchak Lenciski. Nothing to pass on to his children and grandchildren.

Yoram Raanan is an artist whose work on Jewish themes has been exhibited in the most prestigious venues. He was featured this past summer in Hamodia, and the writer, Ashira Morgenstern, described the beautiful home and studio Yoram and his wife created in Beit Meir, just outside Yerushalayim, on top of a mountain overlooking pine-covered Harei Yehudah and a view of the Mediterranean Sea. The natural groves, the trees their son planted, fueled the fires that destroyed a home and an artist’s work. Some of his works, scenes from Tanach, take years to create. They are priceless.

The fires may have extinguished memories, but not the future. The pictures from the Holocaust and the Kiddush cup didn’t survive, but the six brothers and their children and future generations did.

The Gemara that survived Kristallnacht but not the Neve Tzuf fire is still being learned by Boaz Arnon and his son, if not from that volume then from others.

And many of the magnificent works of Yoram Raanan have been lost, but not his ability to “follow his dream, guided by the light of the Torah.”