Often, at times of intense national calamity, our energies are focused on watching, listening, or reading the news in high doses. When the calamity passes, the fires are put out, we keep on listening just out of momentum. For days now, like most Israelis, I’ve been riveted on the Mt. Carmel fire. The shift of the winds, the rage of the blaze, the closure of one road after another, the arrival of international help, the destruction of homes, the maps and live video, and learning about the lives of those killed. My kids went to Haifa to volunteer. Elderly relatives relocated. It is all deeply painful.
In all likelihood, the massive firefighting planes from Russia and the U.S., combined with a forecast of rain, will bring this all to an end in the coming hours. Lacking new facts, the opinion-waves are already filled with prattle, and I, in my intensive, consumptive fever, have forgotten to turn them off.
Let’s get a few things straight. This is a major national disaster for Israel. At least 41 dead, more than 12,000 acres — half of Israel’s biggest forest — destroyed, hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, an entire kibbutz nearly wiped off the map. The only important things to be thinking about right now are (a) caring for the injured and the families of the deceased, (b) figuring out how to help them rebuild their lives and how to rebuild a beautiful, stunning national treasure that was the Mt. Carmel forest, and (c) figuring out what went wrong and how to make sure Israel is prepared for future fires in a way that is reasonable and balanced with other, no-less-pressing, needs.
What is not important right now? Here are my top 10:
1. Explaining how forest fires are caused by Sabbath desecration.
2. Complaining about how the fire hurts Israel’s image abroad.
3. Taking too much credit for our diplomatic successes in getting other countries to help.
4. Telling us why American Jews shouldn’t give to the JNF.
5. Blaming the fire on government funding for the settlements.
6. Calling the fire “Netanyahu’s Katrina” or the Fire Department’s “Yom Kippur War.”
7. Calling an “anti-Semite”anyone who criticizes Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
8. Comparing Israel’s failure to fight the fire with the collapse of the Roman and Ottoman Empires.
9. Dreaming that the fire will help repair ties with Turkey.
10. Using the fire as an excuse to point out the racism in Israeli society.
Not that all these are totally false; they’re just all totally inappropriate at this time. And most of them are pretty dumb. We can sort them out later on.