Being True to Who We are

When you travel, you can know you are going to a meaningful place and yet be unprepared for what it will mean to you. This is especially true in Israel.

 

One of the stops on our Heart to Heart 2 Mission was at the site of the terrible forest fire on Mt. Carmel, where 44 people lost their lives, 42 of them prison guards or trainees, one a teenage volunteer, trying to ensure the safe evacuation of a prison. We were there to remember all of them, and to pay special tribute to Ahuva Tomer, the first woman to command the Haifa Police Station. She died from burns she suffered while trying to save the prison guards and trainees.

 

Before we had even left for Israel, I saw the visit to Mt. Carmel on the itinerary and was apprehensive. On the day the fire started, I was meeting Anna Fisch, our Women’s Philanthropy president, for a cup of coffee in Maplewood. I was checking my blackberry when I saw something online about a fire in Israel. I shared the news with Anna as soon as she sat down and we were overcome with sadness. The sprawling extent of the fire and the deaths of 44 people horrified us and seemed to be a result of a “perfect storm” of under-preparedness, weather, and human error. So there we were in New Jersey, with tears in our eyes. What was going to happen once we got to Israel? I am always apt to be emotional in Israel and I was afraid that this memorial service would just undo me.

 

As our bus wound its way up the hills, around the curves, moving deeper and deeper into the canyons of Mt. Carmel, we could see how the fires had jumped from spot to spot. As we approached the place in the road where the bus had been trapped, it was easy to understand how such a thing could happen. Steep walls rise on one side of the road; a deep ravine is on the other. We walked through burnt shrubs and newly flowering poppies to a spot overlooking the road.

 

Etti Mierson, interim Police Chief, Haifa Police Department
Etti Mierson, interim Police Chief, Haifa Police Department
We heard from Etti Mierson, Tomer’s deputy. When Etti took this position, it was the first time two women held the two top positions in a police department in Israel. She told us about the advice Tomer had given her when she started. “Always be a lady,” Tomer told her. “Be professional, but always be a lady.” What she was telling Mierson was not to give up the essence of who she was in order to get a job done. And certainly, Ahuva Tomer was herself a brave leader who thought first of others, even in death. Her story did move me; the simple recitation of the names, ages, and hometowns of the others who died was incredibly heartbreaking.

 

Carmel Fire memorial
Carmel Fire memorial
But what really did me in was what happened at the end of our service. We sang Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. The sweet voices of American and Israeli women, floating into the wind and singing of the hope of thousands of years, carried over the burnt hills, hills that even now are struggling to come back to life.

 

We cannot bring back Ahuva Tomer or the others who died. But we can honor their memories by being true to who we are. May their memories be for a blessing and may the hills of Carmel bloom again.

 

Leslie

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