“Everything is gone and now I have to start all over,” Yoram Ra’anan, an artist and painter of Jewish motifs, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Ra’anan made aliya from the US 40 years ago last week, and settled down to build his life in Beit Meir, a religious community located in the Jerusalem Hills.
“I came to Israel after backpacking through Europe, and since that time I have built a home, a 300-meter studio, married and have four children and six grandchildren,” he said.
Ra’anan, a graduate of the University of Arts in Philadelphia and a self-described “passionate artist,” said he often paints from morning until night in his studio, a converted chicken coop.
Early Friday morning, he was sleeping in his studio – something he often does as part of the creative process – when his wife, Meira, came and told him, “We have to leave, there is a fire.”
“I thought, ‘That’s strange,’ but my wife insisted that we had to go, and we came outside and I saw sparks flying and we just jumped in the car and we tried to get out of the moshav. There were 150 families all trying to get out from one exit since the other exit was blocked and we were stuck,” he said.
Ra’anan saw his art studio go up in flames, and watched as the structure, filled with oil paints and turpentine and other flammable materials, burned to the ground.
“It was pretty amazing, because we were trapped. We realized that we might not be able to get out and we thought maybe we should just run. It suddenly became very real,” he said. “But thank God, in the end we were able to get out and drive through the flames.”
While Ra’anan and his wife were lucky to escape with their lives, however, his life’s work – an estimated $2 million worth of paintings were destroyed.
“I walked 50 meters to work every day, and now my studio is totally destroyed and 2,000 artworks are destroyed, all the catalogues, all my records, all the past work I did. Everything is gone, and now I have to start all over with nothing.”
Still, he counts himself lucky, as his home was saved from the fire, and in his hour of crisis he has found support from his fans around the world.
“The bottom line is that I saw the studio burn, and I thought you can always make more art. So I appreciate getting out [alive] more than normally,” he said. “One thing that I am amazed by, is the amount of support from around the world that I’ve received. It’s amazing that so many hearts, souls and spirits are touched by what I do and have reached out.”
In fact, a group of admirers and friends began a crowdfunding campaign on his behalf through The Chesed Fund to help rebuild his studio.
With regards to rebuilding his life’s work, Ra’anan said he is thankful for all the help, but added that he intends to deal with the situation head on and look forward. “It’s always the way I’ve been, I have to be like a phoenix and rise from the ashes.”
“I came Israel exactly 40 years ago and I’ve been doing a parsha painting every week for three years for the Post
,” he said, using the term the describes the “portion” of Torah traditionally read by Jews each week.
“I started three years ago last week, and that was the last one I sent in before the fire,” he said. “For me, it is an opportunity to see that life has its cycles, like the Jewish people and like the moon which waxes and wanes. This is how life is, and I accept that with complete and perfect faith.”