Maya Ben Zvi was hosting a wedding at her popular restaurant, Rama’s Kitchen, in the Jerusalem hills community of Nataf on Friday when the decision was made to evacuate.
Just a short time later, the entire place was ablaze. But, she said, the most important thing is that no lives were lost.
Nataf had already been evacuated twice since Tuesday as wildfires threatened the community. The entire population was told again to leave Friday afternoon as flames crept closer after a fresh blaze began in the nearby Ma’ale Hahamisha area.
And this time, Ben Zvi lost her restaurant and part of her home.
“We got the message at about 2:30 p.m.that a fire had started down in the valley, and we began to organize to protect the northern flank of the community,” Ben Zvi told Channel 2 television afterwards. “By 3 p.m., the flames were approaching the community and our home, making it necessary to spray water [to stop them catching fire].”
Moments later, she, her team and the wedding party had to run for their lives.
Maya and her mother Rama, the co-owner for whom the restaurant is named, were initially unsure whether to evacuate the guests or let the party go on. “When we realized that the fire was only getting fiercer, we told them to flee.”
She told Channel 2 that the primary concern was saving lives, and only then did they worry about whether the restaurant could be rescued.
“We did not know what would happen to the place. There was a tree next to the restaurant, and we knew that if it caught fire, it would pose a threat. We intended to spray it with water to stop the tree going up, but then we saw it burning — and that set fire to the restaurant.”
Rama spoke of the sadness she felt as they saw the restaurant go up in flames.
“I saw a plume of smoke and immediately realized where it was coming from. I just started crying,” she told Channel 10.
Just a few weeks ago, Maya posted new images of the restaurant on social media, showing its splendid terrace view of the mountains around the capital, and now there is nothing left.
“We watched from a distance as the flames engulfed the restaurant,” she said. “My mother and I are mourning. We are pained that our life’s work was gone in one moment, but we’re glad that we’re at least alive and well.”
She later wrote on Facebook: “We’re all safe. We’re waiting to be allowed to return to what’s left, and start to rebuild. Thank you for your concern.”
Rama said on Saturday that she would rebuild the restaurant, but that it would time, and that she was still coming to terms with the loss.
“It is denial, I feel like I don’t know what I feel. There are moments I weep and there are moments I block it. I cannot contain the force of 21 years invested in this place,” she told Channel 2. “Don’t pressure me, give me my time. I want to thank everyone for their support and love,” she added.