Devastated Youth Village Determined to Get Past Carmel Fire
“We definitely have some kids in crisis, who saw the only home they know go up in smoke,”says the director of the Yemin Orde Youth Village Benny Fisher . “Those feelings will probably stay with them for a long time, and we are going to have to help them learn to cope with their feelings.”
However, thanks to the generosity of Israelis and Jews worldwide, he continues, what could have been an extended tragedy has been halted in its tracks – as supplies, assistance, and donations have poured in to help the residents of the ill-fated youth village that suffered major losses during the Carmel forest fire. “People have been wonderful, responding with so much assistance, that, believe it or not, we have more than enough to manage meanwhile,” Fisher told Israel National News in an interview. "The challenge now is to rebuild what was lost, and for that we need help from our friends."
Yemin Orde was one of the many sites damaged during the devastating Carmel fire, which raged for four days last over weekend, consuming 50,000 dunams (over 10,000 acres) of forested area, containing some 5 million trees. Much of the damage occurred in the Carmel National Park on Mt. Carmel, near Haifa, but towns bordering the forest – such as Kibbutz Beit Oren, the religious Zionist Nir Etzion and the Ein Hod artists' colony - were evacuated and severely damaged.
Yemin Orde is adjacent to Nir Etzion, a few minutes farther up the mountain road from Ein Hod. The venerable, educationally innovative Youth Village, is home to some 500 youngsters, most of whose parents hail from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union and other countries. Many of the children come from dysfunctional homes, making it impossible for them to return home.
Unfortunately, the Carmel fire destroyed dormitory buildings housing about one third of the student body, including a building where the youngest children live – children at-risk as young as 8 and 9 years of age, whose families are incapable of taking care of them at all. Also destroyed in the fire were the school's library, staff housing, and classrooms – nearly 20 buildings in all.
While some of the students were home for Chanukah vacation when the fire broke out, many who live year round in the youth village were in their dorm rooms as the flames approached. School officials evacuated them from the site, setting up temporary quarters at a facility owned by the IDF Soldiers' Welfare Society (Aguda Lema'an Hachayal) in nearby Givat Olga, a solution, it turns out, that the school is going to have to use for at least a few weeks, Fisher says.
With at least a third of the campus totally destroyed, and many other buildings partially damaged, school staff have been hard at work since the fire was put out Sunday trying to reorganize facilities that are still usable in order to restart classed on time next Monday, Fisher says. “It's been traumatic enough for the kids, so it's important that we restore as much normality to their lives as possible, and that means continuing with the regular school schedule. We will just have to be creative with the space we have available.”
Fortunately, equipment and day to day needs won't be a problem. “So much was lost in the fire – books, supplies, clothing for the kids, and much more – but people have been so generous. Fundraising has been going on in many communities in Israel and abroad, and we have enough to get by for the immediate future,” Fisher says. What's needed now is financial support to enable the school, first established in 1953, to get back on its feet.
“Thank G-d we were able to get through this without any children getting hurt,” he says. “Now we need to rebuild what was lost, and for that we need as much help as people can provide.”