This article was written by Meredith Scott, Cohort V:
Thanksgiving Day 2016 was one I will never forget. I had so much to be thankful for on this day. I was in the Eshkol Tower working in the seminar room for our program, when the fires broke out all over Haifa. Yael Granot-Bein, the Director of the program, came in and told me she had to leave to pick up her children from school, because many of the schools were closing all over Haifa due to the fires. Some other students and I went to one of the windows facing the fires and saw huge clouds of smoke rising above one of the neighborhoods in Haifa. Then we saw the flames jumping up into the sky.
In our state of shock we decided together what to do next. They both live off campus, so they went home to make sure everything was okay there and to pack a bag for evacuation. I left to pack a bag as well, just in case. On the way to my apartment (Talia Dorms), Yael called me and a told me to meet her back at the parking lot of the Eshkol tower, with a bag. She said, we could go to her parents home in Nesher which was unaffected and safe. I grabbed all my valuables and ran back up to Yael. This the first of many things that made this the most thankful Thanksgiving I’ve ever had.
Yael’s father picked us up just outside of the university and he took us back to his home. As we watched the news coverage, we saw the neighborhood that had been Yael’s family home in childhood. It was completely destroyed. Another staff member in the Weiss-Livnat Holocaust Studies program lost her home to the fires.
As we watched the news, Yael’s first priority was making sure that all the students and staff were safe. She called all of the students and made sure they had a place to go. The other students in the program who don’t live in Haifa were offering their homes to Haifa residents. Even though there was so much devastation, the response was amazingly beautiful. Yael’s family hosted my Thanksgiving dinner that night, and I really couldn’t thank them enough for welcoming me to their home.
Toward the evening, we found that Yael’s home was safe, so we went to stay the night there. Yael had been in contact with another student, Jasmine, who had been at the Shuk and was not able to get back to campus before it had been evacuated. Fortunately, she had met an Israeli on the road the hosted her that afternoon and evening. In the late evening, Yael was able to pick Jasmine up and we both spent the night in Yael’s home.
Meanwhile, all the international students were well taken care at the Haifa City Center. In the morning, we just got word that the International School planned to take all the students, around 200, to the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, just south of Tel Aviv. Yael wanted to see all her students, so we all went down to the Center. Jasmine and I decided to stay with the international school. Yael hosted students again this night who wanted to stay in Haifa.
We took busses down to Rehovot and the Weizmann Institute warmly welcomed all the students.
That night, the Weizmann Institute organized volunteers to host us for Shabbat dinners. They had more volunteers than students for Shabbat dinner. This really speaks to Israeli culture. Specifically, after this weekend I understand why people say the Israeli culture is the most hospitable. We got to meet some really amazing and incredibly intelligent people from the Institute.
That night we all had warm, safe beds to sleep in. During the next day, we all caught up on the news and were, for lack of better words, shocked. While we were receiving such amazing hospitality, the nation of Israel was also receiving help from nations all over the world including Russia, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Croatia and Turkey.
Some of the fires have been confirmed as arson. This is a reminder of the depths that humanity can fall to, as we’re studying the Holocaust we’re constantly reminded of how terrible humans can be. However, this Thanksgiving I am so grateful toward the families that took me into their homes, the Weizmann Institute and to the different countries that lended a hand in fighting the fires. Students and staff are back at the University of Haifa now. We’re all safe and alive. I think I can speak for all of us and how grateful we are toward the vast array of people that helped us.
I just want to add a personal thank you to Yael and her family for the hospitality they gave me.