Village founded by singing rabbi Carlebach burns to ground in rash of wildfires

Almost all homes in Moshav Mevo Modiim destroyed or damaged by flames; ‘we’ll have to rebuild,’ local official says

Effects of a fire in the central town of Mevo Modiim on May 23, 2019. (Israel Fire Service)
Effects of a fire in the central town of Mevo Modiim on May 23, 2019. (Israel Fire Service)

A community founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach has been almost completely destroyed by fire, local authorities said Thursday, as a rash of wildifres ravaged the area.

Mevo Modiim, a community of some 250 people nestled into the Ben Shemen forest east of Tel Aviv, was one of several communities completely evacuated Thursday, as homeowners attempted to get out of the way of the raging flames.

Some 40 of the 50 homes in the town were damaged by the fire, according to the Ynet news site. Firefighters only managed to get the blaze there and in other areas around the forest under control late Thursday, according to reports.

Pictures of the small town showed homes and cars completely destroyed by the fire, which swept through the area aided by stifling temperatures and stiff winds.

Effects of a fire in the central town of Mevo Modiim on May 23, 2019. (Israel Fire Service)

Authorities shut Route 443, a main artery connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that runs near the community, as flames licked brush near the highway.

“Most people are just thankful that nobody was hurt,” a local government source told the Haaretz daily. “This is a tough night. The community needs to be rebuilt from scratch.”

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach during a visit to the Kotel in Jerusalem, early 1990s. (Shlomo Carlebach Legacy Trust)
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach during a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, early 1990s. (Shlomo Carlebach Legacy Trust)

Carlebach, a charismatic rabbi best known as a composer of Jewish music and as spiritual leader to religious Jews in the counterculture, founded the small town in 1975.

The village was home to a large English-speaking community, and was a focal point for many of Carlebach’s followers, who referred to it simply as “the Moshav.”

The US-raised Carlebach lived there and in Canada before his death in 1994.

Fire engulfing a building in Mevo Modiim on May 23, 2019. (screen capture: Ynet)

A number of families were spending the night at a dormitory in a nearby agriculture school, while others went to relatives and others.

A campaign was launched by families who had been raised in the community, along with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, to raise money to rebuild the village.

No wordsUpdateI was on the Moshav this morning with the Moetza It looks like a war zone. Shul and Shlomo Center intact plus 5 out of 60 houses. All the rest destroyed. All residents and animals were evacuated in time.Thousands of Reb Shlomos books saved in the center. Not sure about the other books in the Carlebach home as we weren’t permitted to enter any migrashim because of fires still burning and electrical and water infrastructure damage.Alon Teeger

Posted by ‎Carlebach Educational Center מרכז חינוך קרליבך‎ on Thursday, May 23, 2019

“The Moshav was a space of deep peace and comfort. I am in utter shock, devastated and heartbroken that our precious place has burned.” Carlebach’s New York-based daughter Neshama Carlebach said on the website of the campaign.

Hundreds of fires were reported elsewhere around the country, including in Kibbutz Harel, near Beit Shemesh, where at least six homes were damaged by fires.

המושב נשרף. ברוך השם כולם בסדר וכרגע פונו לחדרים בכפר הנוער בן שמן או אצל משפחה וחברים.The Moshav is on fire. The pictures look terribleA true blessing that everyone is safe.***

Posted by Avia Cohen on Thursday, May 23, 2019

In addition to Mevo Modiim and Harel, a fire service spokesman said that Israelis had been evacuated from the central towns of Gimzo, Tarum, Neot Kedumim, Kfar Daniel, Kfar Uriya and Karmia.

He added that forces were preparing to possibly evacuate thousands of more Israelis, including ones in the central towns of Shilat, Kfar Ruth and Lapid.

Firefighters battle a blaze near Kibbutz Harel in central Israel, May 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the West Bank, police evacuated some 30 families from their homes in the Beit Hagai settlement as a fire approached the community. In Beitar Ilit, an apartment building caught fire and several people including a mother and her children had to be rescued by firefighters. Three of them were taken to the hospital with fire-related injuries.

The rash of fires came a day after authorities tried to clamp down on traditional bonfires from the Lag B’Omer holiday, citing the hot, dry conditions. Some officials said embers from improperly doused fires contributed to the breakout.

Gilad Mastai, an official with JNF-KKL, Israel’s semi-governmental forestry division, said the Ben Shemen fires had caused immense damage to the woodland and fauna. “Very large ares of the forest, which is the green lung of the Tel Aviv area, were burned. We didn’t expect to get hit so bad after a full night of patrolling the forest and removing people who started bonfires. It’s hard to estimate how many trees were damaged and burned, this is one of the most damaging fires that has occurred in a forest in the center of Israel,” he told Ynet news.

View of a fire raging in near the Ben Shemen Forest, on May 23, 2019. (Flash90)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Channel 12 news that arson has been ruled out, with the exception of several fires near Gaza caused by arson balloons.

Firefighters extinguish the fire of a burning house amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

He instructed fire authorities to prepare for the possibility that a national emergency be declared, with Friday’s temperatures expected to eclipse 100° F (38° C) throughout the country.

Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Croatia agreed late Thursday to firefighting aircraft to Israel to help battle the blazes, but the aircraft would only be able to depart for Israel on Friday morning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had directed the Foreign Ministry to reach out to nearby countries for “immediate” assistance in putting out the fires.

JTA contributed to this report.

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