Arson survivor: 'We were brushing cinders off the babies.'

Arson survivors vow to rise from the ashes

November 28, 2016 01:33
4 minute read.
Halamish fire

DR. AMY ROSENBLUH stands in the doorway of her fire-gutted home in the settlement of Halamish yesterday. . (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Hidden under the burned rubble of Dr. Amy Rosenbluh’s home are her grandmother’s candlesticks. Her grandmother had immigrated to the US from Hungary in 1923 and had brought the candlesticks with her.

On Sunday, Rosenbluh stood in the gutted first floor of her home of 18 years and looked into the room where they had stood. Not knowing whether the floor would hold, she feared walking over it to check if the candlesticks were there.

Tiles from the destroyed roof crunched underfoot as she cautiously surveyed the damage. The entire second floor had disappeared, collapsed onto the first. The stairwell now led up to the open sky.

Fire damage in Halamish. Photo: Tovah Lazaroff.

The air was still filled with ash from the blaze that destroyed 18 homes in the West Bank settlement of Halamish, forcing the evacuation of its 1,300 residents late Friday night and early Saturday morning. Smoke still rose from the hilltops in places.

Like most of her neighbors, the tall, gray-haired woman was torn between mourning her losses and counting her blessings, that there were no serious injuries or loss of life.

“I thought the house had burned to the ground,” she said, adding her relief at discovering the basement might still be intact.

“The fire caught on the roof above our bedroom and apparently traveled to the roof over there, and the whole roof burned and collapsed in,” Rosenbluh said.

Her large, bright pink stucco home stood out in the neighborhood before, and the fire now only made it more visible, because of the front facade – topped by burned timbers – that still largely remained.

The pink exterior of the home. Photo: Tovah Lazaroff.

“I’m going to rebuild and I’m going to paint it even pinker,” she said. Red police tape was strung across her porch and driveway warning against entry. As Rosenbluh walked back onto the street, neighbors stopped to say that she and her family were in their hearts.

Her 10-year-old grandson forgot for a moment about the damage and asked if he could go to the third floor.

“There is no third floor,” she told him as she tussled his hair.

“Be strong,” a neighbor, Jacqui Slasky, told her as she hugged Rosenbluh.

Halamish residents have vowed to rebuild. Photo: Tovah Lazaroff.

Together they recalled the events of Friday night.

Strangely, Slasky said, “I have a wooden house. The flames just jumped over our house. This one is gone. That one is gone. We took the kids out and we were in the flames.”

The street was filled with ash and blazing cinders, she said. “I was scared to start the car. We were brushing cinders off the babies.”

Then, to break the tension, Slasky said, “Hell, it’s only a goddamn house.”

On Friday, as Rosenbluh was preparing for Shabbat, she considered it plausible, but not probable, that her home could be in danger. In the past, she said, Palestinians had set fires near the settlement, so she believed it could be happening again.

Halamish residents had been advised to pack a small travel bag before Shabbat began. But that didn’t stop Rosenbluh from hosting three American seminary students from Jerusalem.

“I told the girls, ‘It’s not going to happen, but you should just know’ [about the situation].”

Initially, everything was normal. They all walked to her daughter’s home in the settlement for Friday night dinner. After returning home they sat and talked, then went to bed.

The next thing Rosenbluh knew, the students were banging on her bedroom door, saying that firefighters were in their garden.

“They saw people running through the garden with hoses and they did not know what was going on,” Rosenbluh said. “I looked out my window in that direction. I saw the fire. It didn’t look like it was moving. I figured OK, it will get under control. And then, all of a sudden, it traveled very fast.”

There was confusion next, as neighbors helped everyone on the street get into their cars.

Rosenbluh and her husband Michael took two cars and drove with the seminary students to her daughter’s home a short distance away.

But soon the entire community was told to evacuate. Everyone – including her daughter’s five children – piled into cars and headed with the rest of Halamish in the middle of the night to the nearby Ateret settlement.

From Ateret, the Rosenbluhs decided to go their son’s home in Allon and arrived without warning. They simply knocked on his door at 3 a.m. and piled into his home. Neighbors who heard of their arrival came with food later in the day.

The Rosenbluhs made aliya in 1980 from Massachusetts and moved to Halamish in 1998, after building their own home there. Amy Rosenbluh is the director of production for a bio-tech company Jerusalem. Michael chairs the physics department at Bar- Ilan University.

Their decision to move to Halamish was initially political, and stemmed from their opposition to the 1993 Oslo Accords. “We decided we had to put our money where our mouths were.”

But politics aside, she said Halamish is a very special community.
Israeli security forces evacuate homes in Nataf, near Jerusalem, as wildfires encroach properties

“This was an amazing house,” she said, “and it will be amazing again.”

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