Love your neighbor: During recent fires, Messianic moshav hosted evacuees with real community spirit

Messianic Moshav Yad Hashmona outside of Jerusalem (Photo: Gilabrand/Wikimedia Commons)

It was unseasonably hot and arid when fires sprung up suddenly in the hills surrounding Jerusalem in late May. With temperatures reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), the country was basically kindling for the raging flames.

In an instant thousands of people had to be evacuated from their homes. The head of the Mateh Yehuda regional council called the hotel manager at Yad HaShmona — a nearby moshav populated by Messianic believers — for help in receiving evacuees.

“I have to evacuate all the residents of Kibbutz Harel within the next few minutes,” he told Tsuriel Bar David. 

“Bring them,” Bar David responded. “We’ll figure out later how to accommodate them.”

Ayelet Ronen, chairwoman at Yad HaShmona, related the gripping account of receiving the fire victims on a moment’s notice, the second time the moshav has done so in the past few years. 

“The head of the council knows we are always ready to help,” Ronen told Kehila News Israel. “We had guests at the hotel at the time, but Tsuriel said we would figure something out.”

Between Yad HaShmona and three other hotels hundreds of residents were housed that day. Some 23 families were taken in at Yad HaShmona.

During the intense three-day heatwave, thousands of acres of forests and 50 homes were destroyed as wildfires swept across Israel. Surrounding nations sent firefighting jets to help extinguish the flames, which took several days.

Ronen said the staff and residents at Yad HaShmona quickly jumped into action and prepared to receive the guests. The hotel staff organized rooms and prepared food while several of the residents spearheaded a collection of toys and clothes for the kids who were coming. One Yad HaShmona resident insisted that the children at the moshav start baking so they could hand out homemade cookies to the evacuees when they arrived for dinner. 

“And indeed she stood at the door of the dining hall and distributed homemade cookies telling each person, ‘Whatever you need, please ask us,’” Ronen said. “Another woman bought several soccer balls for the kids.” 

Ronen said the kids who live at the moshav took the guests’ children under their wings as well and brought them to play soccer at the field.

“They arrived very quickly and with very few belongings,” Ronen said. “You could just feel their emotions, their stress. They were worried about their homes and the fire was still not under control when they got here.” 

At Kibbutz Harel, where many of them came from, 10 homes were destroyed and firefighters also found asbestos. An odor of burned plastic lingered for days and Israel’s ministries of health and environmental protection kept the residents away because of the noxious fumes.

“For a few days the residents were left in limbo,” Ronen said. “They were not allowed back into the kibbutz to see their homes and they had no idea whether they even had one. They were so tense.”

After the tension eased a bit and family members went back to work or school routines, some of the evacuees asked Ronen to tell them more about the moshav. She ended up meeting with a few women and shared her faith. 

Yad HaShmona, founded in 1971 by Finnish believers, has nearly 300 residents and runs a hotel, convention center and banquet hall. The moshav was named in honor of eight Jewish refugees from Austria who escaped to Finland in 1938. However, the Finnish government handed the refugees over to the Gestapo in 1942. Seven of them subsequently died in the Holocaust and the lone survivor later immigrated to Israel.

“When I met with them I was able to share, who is Yeshua? Who are Messianic Jews? What do we believe? It was a very interesting conversation,” Ronen said. “It was very pleasant because it was a small group of kibbutznikim, left wingers who are very open and easy to talk to. …They were sorry more people didn’t come to listen.”

In 2016, the moshav hosted 40 families when a fire in their community forced them to leave.

“It was a Friday evening. They arrived — 40 families with kids, and their pets, but no bags. They were in shock.”

In much the same way, the moshav rose to the occasion even worrying about food for the pets.

But immediately after that, Yad Lachim — an extreme Orthodox Jewish organization — posted a warning on Facebook: “Don’t go to Yad HaShmona, the moshav of missionaries!”

Ironically, Ronen recalled, that very weekend, the religious evacuees were “stuck” at the moshav for the weekend since they do not travel on Shabbat for religious reasons. 

“They had the opportunity to enjoy Shabbat with us and in fact, they were very happy,” she said. “And the members of Yad HaShmona bought them everything, even food for the dogs. That really touched them.”

Ronen explained that the Israeli government financially covers the evacuees’ stay to a certain extent, but that Yad HaShmona will go above and beyond the basic coverage to help the families feel at home while they are there. The moshav makes sure there is food that all the children will eat and help out with laundry too.

Eleven families from Kibbutz Harel remain at Yad HaShmona while renovations are underway at their homes and to the infrastructure that was damaged by the fires. Six homes were destroyed plus some agricultural buildings. 

“At Yad Hashmona we have a very real and active community life, and people really feel it,” Ronen said. “That’s a big witness, in my opinion.”