From the desk of Rabbi Sara Perman

When it gets cold, as it finally has, people have this romantic image of sitting near a roaring fire and warming their tootsies. When I was a child, we were always excited when my dad would make a fire in our fire place on a cold winter night, especially when he added something to the fire that would make colors gently explode.

Sadly the image of a roaring fire lately for many people has been far from a pleasant or romantic image. In November, it was shocking to watch fire after fire burst out in Israel. At one time, it was reported there were over 250 large fires across Israel and as many as 1500 fires. Some were believed to be accidental; many were believed to be started on purpose by arsonists. 60,000 residents of Haifa were evacuated. 700 homes in Haifa alone were either destroyed or damaged. But it was not just Haifa that was affected. At one point it looked as if almost all of Israel was on fire. It was not only in the Haifa area, but around Jerusalem, and even in the desert. The US, Russia, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Turkey, Cyprus, even the Palestinian Authority sent in teams to help fight the fires. Thank God there were no deaths. For a while it was only a news story, until one of my friends from the Reform Jewish community Har Halutz in the Misgav-Karmiel area reported that the fire had burned their porch. Suddenly these fires touched people I knew.

There are several ways to help. The Jewish National Fund is one agency involved. They not only plant trees but also are responsible for the firefighting equipment.

You can contribute to the JNF 42 East 69th Street, New York, NY 10021. The United Jewish Federation is collecting funds to help families who have lost their homes and/or were displaced by the fires. The address for the UJF is 234 McKee Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Our movement in Israel, ARZA is also helping families that were displaced and/or had damage to their homes. Then, of course, there is working with the families who experienced the psychological trauma of the fires. Checks to ARZA can be sent to ARZA, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10021. You do not need to give to all of the above. Choose one, if you can. In any case, make sure that you note in the memo line on your check it is to go to the November fire relief. I also just learned from my friend from Har Halutz that the fire that hit their community was started by arsonists, so they will get assistance from the Israeli government.

Closer to home, we also saw how destructive the fires were in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Sadly, so many people had no warning and again it was arsonists who caused such destruction, in this case also with fourteen people dead, 175 people injured more than 2400 homes and buildings destroyed, plus nearly 20,000 acres of national park land scorched. Thankfully, Dolly Parton has used her name and connections to help raise funds to help the families affected by this fire.

We know from the Havdalah service with the many wicks of the Havdalah candle, that fire can both create and destroy. As you try to stay warm this winter, also stay safe, not just from fire but also from the outdoor elements.