Last week, the entire community of Mevo Modi’im fled their homes as fires raged at the gates. They returned to find their homes in ruin. As they try to rebuild, it becomes clear that the people of the Moshav, now homeless were not the only victims. One man is working hard to help their pets, the four-legged family members who are just as homeless and bewildered by the devastation.
Tziki Galor, a resident of Mevo Modi’im, has volunteered for Ten L’Chayot Li’chyot (Let the animals live), an organization to help animals, for many years. That avocation kicked into high-gear in the aftermath of the devastating fire that destroyed his community.
At the time, the fire department and emergency services were hard pressed, coping with more than one thousand fires. The evacuation was carried out quickly as the fire was moving fast. Under such conditions, little thought was given to the animals that coexisted with the people.
“When the people were told to evacuate, it was not with the understanding that their houses were about to be burned down,” Galor explained. “No one imagined that one day they would be given just a few minutes to run for their lives and leave everything behind. All of the dogs were taken out but many of the cats were left behind. Some of the cats sensed the danger and were so terrified they refused to come.”
“When there is a fire, animals instinctively run and hide,” Galor explained. “They don’t understand that we are taking them to safety.”
One of the pets left behind was Bagoo, a three-legged rescue cat that belonged to Galor’s mother. Bagoo refused to leave, disappearing in the final frantic moments. When Galor returned, he searched for the cat but his mother’s house was completely destroyed. Moses was sure Bagoo was dead but he continued looking. Finally, he looked under the burned-out shell of the neighbor’s house. Among the ashes, Galor spied a pair of eyes looking out at him. Bagoo was terrified and refused to come to him. Many scratches later, Galor managed to grab Bagoo and put him in a cage.
Galor was understandably emotional when he called his mother and told her that in the midst of the destruction, their three-legged Bagoo was still alive.
He and other volunteers from Ten L’Chayot Li’chyot set up stations around the Moshav with water and food. Israel was in the midst of a heatwave and when they returned a few days later, it was clear that the stations had been visited with the water containers nearly empty.
“Animals and people live together in symbiosis,” he explained. “They depend on us. After a fire, they are in shock for several days. The only way to get the cats out was with extreme patience.”
They succeeded in finding four other cats, two that required veterinary treatment.
Unfortunately, the new living situation prevented the people of the Moshav from being reunited with all of their pets. The rules of the youth village prevented it and even were it permitted, the stress and crowded conditions would not allow this. The people of the Moshav asked friends and family to adopt their beloved pets until they can get their lives sorted out.
“It would be ideal for both the animals and the humans to be together,” Galor said. “Can you imagine how important it is for a family in crisis to be with their beloved pet? They are our companions. They give us comfort.”
Galor noted that fires were not new to the region.
“We’ve fought fires ourselves in the past,” he said. “It’s part of living there. There are also serious security concerns since we were on what is called ‘the green line’. Even though we are in the center of Israel, in many ways, we are the border keepers for Israel.”
But when Galor looked out over the forest, he immediately understood that this fire was entirely different.
“From the beginning, it looked wild, much larger and more intimidating than anything I had ever seen,” Galor said.
His initial impression proved accurate. Fire officials have since determined that the fire was a case of arson with four separate and distinct points of ignition. The Israeli government has resources available for victims of terror, even if the terror is arson, but the fire that destroyed the Moshav has yet to be classified as nationalistically motivated. As such, there are no resources available.
The situation is unprecedented. Other than the intentional destruction of communities for political purposes, it has never happened before in Israel’s history that an entire community was destroyed. The infrastructure to aid the residents does not exist. The plight of the Moshav should fall on the desk of the Minister of Finance, Moshe Kahlon but the government is in the throes of transition with Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition leading to new elections. The families of the Moshav are falling between the bureaucratic cracks. The regional council of Yad Benyamin opened up a youth village but the conditions are far from ideal, with entire families living in one room dormitories.
“The living conditions are what we had when we were kids in boarding school. Even at that, it would be bearable if we knew how long we would be here,” Galor said. “But the electric and water infrastructures were destroyed. We don’t know when we will be allowed to return.”
The Moshav was known for its open-door policy. Everyone was welcome to join them for Shabbat, to be inspired by their unique brand of Judaism based on joy and love.
“It’s a harsh thing for us to suddenly be thrust into the position where we need help,” Galor said. “It is not in our nature.”
Galor is a carpenter and fix-it man. His workshop burned completely, as did most of his tools.
“I was the fix-it man for the Moshav,” he said. “Now, there is nothing left to fix.”
Most of the residents are working class, former hippies who eschewed materialism, choosing to follow a deeply religious lifestyle. Artists and musicians lost their studios and collections. Thankfully, the synagogue, a hand-painted work of art, was spared as the fire stopped literally as it reached its walls. One member of the community risked his life, returning as the fires entered the gates in order to retrieve the holy Torah scrolls.
“Everything we had was in our homes,” Galor said. “All we had was what was between us as a community. We have to stay together or that will be lost.”
Most of the residents are American. As such, their children are U.S. citizens and native English-speakers. But their passports and birth certificates were burned.