In My Own Write: The Big Heat

How something useful and good can turn into something mad and destructive, just like that.

July 17, 2012 22:30
A gas burner [illustrative photo]

A gas burner 370 . (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

It comes every year, the Big Heat, and every year we wilt and wonder whether it was quite this bad last summer.

I was pondering just this question when I burned my husband’s pants – not, luckily, his good pants, though he was fond of them and still wears them on selected occasions.

Nor is “burn” totally accurate; what happened was that I forgot to turn off the gas after making porridge a while ago. So the burner was on very low when he rested a large plastic bowl on the stove top, which is next to the window, prior to taking in the washing.

Having finished the job, he then wandered off.

By the time he returned, a quantity of beige plastic had melted off the bottom of the bowl and attached itself in an indelible but, it must be said, not unattractive pattern to his khaki pants.

Now I might, given the topic of this column, be moved to describe this lapse of mine as rendering him somewhat hot under the collar, but a. I dislike cliché, and b. it wouldn’t be true. He can be very even-tempered and, in fact, says he will have forgotten about the whole episode in a year or two.

BUT ALL this is by the bye, serving only as a kind of introduction to my musing on how a thing that is good and useful – essential, actually – can suddenly turn bad and utterly destructive.

Like fire, which is so cozy and comforting when it is cooking our food or keeping us warm in winter, and so alien and monstrous when it rages out of control.

Just a few days ago, 37 firefighting crews comprising 82 firefighters confronted a blaze that tore through the wadis west of Jerusalem, in a scene that recalled a similar event a mere three weeks before. The fire burned around 10 hectares – 25 acres – of land, damaged a number of homes, including many in Mevaseret Zion, and caused injury to six people.

According to news reports, firefighters have battled more than 1,500 fires in open areas of the country over the past two months alone. Their investigations have led them to conclude that at least 70 percent of those fires were the result of arson.

That’s an awful lot of wickedness – or stupidity, if you want to be kinder – and it was good to hear the news this week that individual firefighting units are to be replaced by a National Fire and Rescue Service, and that the Fire Service’s budget is to be boosted by an additional billion shekels each year.

Perhaps this will attract more good people to a vital and currently understaffed service.

In the meantime, 12 people have been arrested in connection with the past two months’ fires, and one would like to think that the severest penalties await those proved to have set them out of malice.

Incidentally, how I hate the phrase “acting out of nationalistic motives” whenever I hear it used by the media. It makes hate-based criminality – terrorism – sound almost noble, like something done to benefit one’s nation and people.

God forbid that anyone should act to maim or kill innocent people under that rubric, or destroy their property, on my behalf!

ONE SHUDDERS to contemplate the desperate act by fire carried out by social justice protester Moshe Silman last weekend. It’s dreadful enough when one hears of a Buddhist monk or some other semi-mysterious figure in a far-off land immolating himself – but during a rally on a street in central Tel Aviv, after distributing copies of a suicide note! With burns over 90% of his body, Silman has been deemed not likely to survive the tragedy – which may be a mercy and a blessing.

We too, I cannot help feeling, have been scarred by this extreme and terrible act of self-destruction that is now part of the annals of our country’s history.

It raises, as The Jerusalem Post editorial of July 16 noted, “ethical issues regarding the limitations of our welfare state,” as well as “sparking debate about the increasing atomization of Israeli society,” in which Silman was, to all appearances, “so devoid of support from friends, family and the community that he opted for suicide.”

Was it inevitable that two other Israelis – in Petah Tikva and Beersheba – should have sought to emulate Silman’s ghastly protest, as occurred one and two days later?

WITH 60% percent of Israel’s wealth currently in the hands of just 10% of the population, we well know that it isn’t only the fringes of our society that are in financial straits, sometimes dire straits.

We who live in this country also well know that salaries have been dropping at the same time as the cost of goods and services, and especially food, has risen. Floods and drought worldwide are contributing to a decrease in the supply – and thus increase in price – of corn, soy and wheat.

Who knows when, and if, this situation will improve? With all the genuine grievances of Israel’s social protesters, I can’t help thinking that actions such as this week’s setting fire to the offices of the National Insurance Institute in Ramat Gan – crossing the line from protest to anarchy – aren’t any kind of solution.

And even with the expertise and good will of the committee set up to deal with the protesters’ claims, the kind of change being demanded will not come overnight.

Those of us who are afloat, and not sinking, in our current social reality must therefore, at the very least, look beyond our own comfort zones – that is, the familiar circle of our families and friends – and keep an ear cocked, ready to pick up any sound of desperation in a neighbor, or even slight acquaintance.

We might not be able to offer practical help. But even listening with patience and empathy to someone’s troubles can be a balm.

Who knows but that a kind word from us might halt the next despairing soul on the threshold of an irrevocable act carried out in the heat of the moment? CAN ANYTHING be written about rising global temperatures without relating to the question of global warming?

At the most basic level: 1. Is GW a reality, making it imperative that we control our pollution and emissions and manage our waste disposal now, if we want the next generation to inhabit our planet as we know it; or 2. Are we merely passing through a period of warming of the earth, similar to other periods that have occurred in history? Authoritative voices on both sides of the question have answered yes.

I was struck by an article I read a while ago in one of the major US papers in which an expert stated, quite categorically, that what we recycle or otherwise do, or stop doing – however dedicated – on an individual basis to limit pollution is less than a drop in the ocean, and ultimately inconsequential.

In other words, the expert strongly implied, our individual efforts together amount to zero compared to what ought to be done, but isn’t being done, on a national basis by the so-called developed countries.

I don’t remember whether he made this next point, or not: But whether global warming is or isn’t a looming threat to continued human existence, there is clearly still tremendous value in our own, personal sense that we are acting responsibly toward the planet and “doing our bit” – even if it is only a bit.

GOING FROM the sublime to the ridiculous – and not to mock those who believe that the celestial bodies’ movements influence human affairs – Fire is the element associated with my birth sign, Leo.

“Everything about the Lion’s personality is hot, hot, hot,” exults

Now while astrology isn’t something I’ve ever taken very seriously, “hot, hot, hot” does express exactly how I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks, as temperatures in Israel have hovered around the mid-30s and higher, and show no sign of abating anytime soon.

Maybe it’s time to look up my horoscope.

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