Moshav Mevo Modi’im fire - Displaced together

The effects of the moshav fire still smolder.

August 9, 2019 07:25
Moshav Mevo Modi’im fire - Displaced together

SIXTY FAMILIES found their homes and way of life destroyed when a massive fire swept Moshav Mevo Modi’im in late May.. (photo credit: ELDAD MAESTRO)

Last week, author and film director Tzvi Fishman organized an event intended to raise the spirits of the 60 families who were displaced from Moshav Mevo Modi’im by a calamitous fire on May 23. The fire, widely believed to be arson, destroyed their homes and their special way of life. Two months after the devastating fire, the residents are being housed temporarily in the Zipori Hotel of Kibbutz Hafetz Haim.

Moshav resident Richard Millman, who along with his wife lost his home and his community, explained the distinctiveness of the moshav. “This was a rather unique experiment when founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in 1976. He took a group of wild and wide-eyed idealists from the chaos of the ‘60s in America and sought to turn them into a unified collective of ‘holy hippie-lach’ trying to find God through Torah and mitzvot.”

Fishman gave to the residents from the fruits of his own work – a screening of his film Stories of Rebbe Nachman and copies of his trilogy Tevye in the Promised Land. The trilogy is a few thousand pages long and traces the history of pre-State Israel through the eyes of Tevye the Milkman from Fiddler on the Roof. Reading the books, Fishman feels, will help pass the time while the residents work through the bureaucratic challenges in an effort to reestablish their community.

A video featuring footage of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on the moshav, prepared by Natanel Shor, was also screened.
Fishman explained why he feels personally connected to the moshav and its displaced residents. “First of all, the victims of the arson are Jews who lost their homes, and rahmonis [have compassion], we all have to care,” he said. “Beyond that, when I started on my return path to Judaism when I was a screenwriter in Hollywood, I walked into a Jewish bookstore on Fairfax Avenue and asked for some books on beginning Judaism. The salesman asked if I liked music and suggested a Rav Carlebach cassette.

“Listening to it was like an injection of Torah straight to the heart. To help me connect with the spiritual world backstage, behind the Hollywood sets of our physical world, I would walk around LA with a Walkman and earphones with Carlebach songs turned up full volume to blast away all of the deceiving charms of daily material existence.

“Like the Psalms of King David, Rabbi Carlebach’s melodies were my ladder back to Hashem. So in that way, I feel connected to the moshav he helped to establish and to the people who live there.”

The evening included a personal talk by well-known Israeli actor Yehuda Barkan. Barkan used the opportunity to encourage the families by recounting the trials he faced in his own life and how he overcame them. He further connected the efforts to rebuild after the catastrophe on the moshav to the rebirth and reestablishment of the Land of Israel.

MILLMAN AND his wife were living on the moshav for six years before the fire. Their house was one of the few that was not completely destroyed, but they lost everything they had in storage. “Our mahsan [storage room] was burned to a fine ash. Pesach dishes, all of our chag (holiday) paraphernalia, photo albums, so many record albums from the best of ‘60s and ‘70s music. Small price to pay on one hand, but still, it all happened so quickly the shock lives on!” he commented.

While praising the event, Millman expressed frustration with the government’s response to the loss of an entire community. “It was wonderful that Tzvi and actor Yehuda Barkan came to entertain our displaced moshav with stories of Reb Nachman for families.

“Reb Nachman’s tales of emunah [faith] and simcha [joy], regardless of one’s circumstances, was an uplift and a treat for all of us. Additionally, he gifted everyone with copies of his marvelous ‘Tevye trilogy’ and sent everyone off smiling.”

Millman continued speaking about the unclear future facing former moshav residents. “The evening was a pleasant distraction from the at times overwhelming befuddlement of what a community is supposed to do when it is destroyed by arson and there is government perplexity about how to respond to this unprecedented disaster.

“As tragic as Gush Katif was, the government and community had months to prepare. We have been ‘resettled’ in a resort of sorts in Hafetz Haim and were just informed that the government is going to relocate us again on August 31, further dividing an already broken yishuv. This is the tragedy of the fabled Carlebach community here in Israel – a unique chevra [close-knit community] trying for 49 years to establish itself far, far from home.”

Millman was one of the producers of The Lords of Flatbush, a 1974 film that featured Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler. He is currently developing “an idea for a film or television series based on the moshav and its colorful history.”

A relatively recent arrival to the moshav, Millman was influenced to join the community by “the feature film/TV series possibilities I saw there: reconstituted dreamers trying to function outside the bubble in an oft-inhospitable climate, while at the same time trying to instill unique values and ideals on the next generations with challenges, setbacks but also undeniable and inspirational impressions left on the hundreds of thousands of young and older people who have passed through there over four decades.”

NECHAMA SILVER has been a moshav resident for 43 years. Six members of her family lost their homes when her two-bedroom house and a caravan beside it were destroyed by flames.

Silver made aliyah in 1974 and moved from Jerusalem to the moshav in 1976. She expressed appreciation for the evening that Fishman hosted.

“The films put me a little bit into a magical world and took me a little out of my brain, constantly thinking about what’s going to be. It was a relief to get away from the reality of what we’re living with now.

“A little comic relief is what we needed. [The talk by] Barkan was very special and reminded me how it was many years ago when we first got turned on to Yiddishkeit.”

Silver was among the group that went to visit the apartment building that the government is offering as temporary housing to the moshav families. She said of the new apartment building in Rosh Ha’ayin, “It’s beautiful and new, overlooking a park and there is shopping down the street.” 

However, the building is approximately 35 km. (22 miles) away from the moshav and the center of the lives of the residents. Even though the temporary housing will be rent-free, “It’s depressing for families to have to move again. We would appreciate it if the government would find a way to work faster.” After several months, “we are nowhere closer to getting our houses back,” she commented.

According to Silver, there are 10 families whose houses are reparable. The families are anxious to return, but officials will not give them permission until the moshav’s infrastructure is fully upgraded and repaired.

“We have mixed feelings,” she explained. “There’s a lot of anger [at the delays]. At the same time, there is a lot of happiness that we have a place to stay and we’re thankful that no one got hurt.”

Looking back over the months since the fire in late May, Silver commented, “Wow, we are having some amazing experiences. Just the fact that Tzvi came and gave us that wonderful evening is a great thing.”

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