While firefighters from both Israel and from abroad have managed to reign in the fires that have caused massive devastation across the country during the past five days, the nightmare is far from over for thousands of residents returning home. Yoram Raanan, an artist from Beit Meir, a small town in the Judean hills just west of Jerusalem, found his art studio this past Friday morning completely ravaged by the forest fire.
Most of Raanan’s life’s work had gone up in flames during Thursday night’s blaze, with thousands of his original works destroyed by the fire. “As we tried to get out of the moshav around 2:30 in the morning on Thursday, I watched my studio go up in a vertical column of flames,” recounted Raanan to Tazpit Press Service (TPS) in an interview.
“The most important thing at the time was that we got out alive,” said the veteran artist, who was sleeping in the studio when his wife came to wake him up at the time of the fire. While the Raanans’ home remained untouched, other homes in Beit Meir were completely destroyed by the fire. “We were about 100 cars trying to get out of the moshav, as the fire began raging around us,” he said. “We were very lucky to escape.”
The wildfires have destroyed 560 homes across Israel, with Haifa bearing the largest brunt, and 180 people have been injured.
Raanan, who graduated from the University of Arts in Philadelphia and whose works are displayed in galleries and exhibitions around the world including Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria, said that in addition to his works, all his supplies including oil paints and canvases were burnt by the fire. “We need serious funds to rent a temporary studio and equipment. I lost some extraordinary pieces,” Raanan told TPS.
Raanan’s works are vibrant and colorful, inspired by Biblical scenes, the land of Israel, and nature. Despite the loss, the artist is optimistic. “I am ready to start over. I want and need to create.”
Raanan said that there has been an overwhelming response of support from across the world. “There has been tremendous interest in my work, now that it is gone. I have been getting commission requests and it looks like I will be busy in the near future.”
While it will not be easy to start over, Raanan recalls his first days in Israel when he knew no one. He arrived to Israel exactly 40 years ago, as a backpacker having travelled the world, with only $500 in his pocket. “Eventually, I married Meira, and had a family of four children and got to own this beautiful piece of property in the mountains outside Jerusalem,” he said.
“It’s true that I lost a collection of important paintings worth millions of dollars, but I believe with God’s continued help that I can rebuild something greater, which I look forward to sharing with the world soon,” Raanan concluded.