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July 29, 1988 - Image 51

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-07-29

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Fighting Fire
With Fervor

Natan Sas, one of Israel's
point men in the battle
against fires that have ravaged
some 35,000 acres of precious
forest land in the past three
months, has an almost
religious feeling for the land.


Special to The Jewish News


atan Sas can hear for-
ests sing. A regional
manager for the Jew-
ish National Fund in Israel,
Sas lovingly describes the
sounds of leaves rubbing
against each other in the
wind; of pine cones opening
with short sharp clicks ("Tak.
Tak. Tak."); of ripe berries
dropping softly to the
But all too often in the past
two years, Sas — whose work
deals with the planting and
preserving of forests in Israel
— has heard sounds other
than singing emerge from
these dense collections of
trees. To his consternation, he
has heard the sounds of burn-
ing; a terrible noise that he
equates with death.
"When a fire goes through
a forest," says Sas, who
recently visited the United
States, "the voice of the fire,
and the voice of the trees that
burn, is like a storm. There is
actually a horrible sound of
the forest dying."
According to statistics pro-
vided by the Jewish National
Fund, which is the organiza-
tion responsible for afforesta-
tion and land reclamation in
Israel, in the past three
months' more than 567 sepa-
rate fires have destroyed ap-
proximately 35,000 acres of
woodland and pasture in
Israel. This number, which is
nearly equal to the number of
fires occurring in all of 1976,
represents a rapidly escalat-
ing trend of fires in the past
two years.
Israeli fire officials — who,
among others, term the situa-
tion a "national tragedy" —

attribute at least half of these
fires to arson, set by Palestin-
ians seeking an outlet for
their blistering anger.
Sas was in the United
States for a month in order to
explore more sophisticated
methods of fire prevention
with members of the U.S.
Forest Service, as well as to
raise funds for fire equipment
for the Jewish National Fund.
But during his visit, Sas
also attempted to convey the
importance of trees in Israel
— and therefore the great sor-
row that grips Israelis when
forests are burned — to his
American hosts.


Natan Sas: He has heard the
sound of a forest dying.

Economics and history,
said Sas, play a large part in
this importance. For the past
eighty years or so, Jews all
over the world have donated
money to the Jewish National
Fund in order to plant trees
in Israel. Largely because of
these donations, forests now
cover about five percent of
Israel's total surface. Restora-
tion of a single acre of man-
planted forest costs more

Jewish National Fund employees work frantically to extinguish a forest fire
occurring in the northern part of Israel.

than $5 million, he said.
But the loss of trees also
takes a severe toll on the
land's natural ecological
balance, said Sas. Trees pre-
vent erosion of the soil, im-
prove the quality of the water,
purify the air and promote
wildlife. Destroyed, they leave
the land barren. It can take
from 30 to 50 years to repair
the damage.
Despite the economical and
ecological importance of
forests, however, their
greatest meaning for Israelis
— and especially for Jewish
National Fund workers —
stems from a religious bond
with the land.
"In the Jewish National
Fund," explained Sas, who
has worked for the organiza-
tion since 1981, "we are work-
ing in almost a spiritual way
with the land. The Bible
tells us to cultivate and to
preserve the land — almost
like nursing a baby, [and
that's what we do.]"
So when a fire destroys
these trees that the Israelis
have raised from seedlings,
said Sas, the hurt goes deep.
He recalled one fire that
raged through a forest near
Jerusalem last year. Called

Ma'ale HaHamisha, the for-
est covered about 30 acres
and was composed of about
12,000 rare trees, including
cedar, juniper, carob, olive,
almond and date trees. Most
of these trees had been
brought to Israel by the first
pioneers about 80 years ago.
At about 11 a.m. one morn-
ing last June, Sas said, smoke
was spotted curling up from
two different locations in the
forest. A team of Jewish Na-
tional Fund employees
rushed out to fight the fire.
Their first priority was to try
to keep the flames from reach-
ing nearby agricultural set-
tlements. But the fire, which
actually had been set in four
different locations and was
aided by a strong southeast
wind, presented them with a
grueling challenge.
By five o'clock in the even-
ing, the firefighters — who
had since been joined by
other teams — had achieved
their primary goal: the fire
was obliterated and had not
encroached upon the settle-
ments. However, the fighters
had lost most of the trees.
"It was like burning a
painting by Chagall, or a page
in a stamp book with your

The Jewish National Fund recent-
ly received permission from the
United States Forestry Depart-
ment to use its well known
Smokey the Bear logo for J.N.F.
promotional campaigns. Here,
Smokey the Bear tips his hat to
a little J.N.F. person who is em-
bracing a tree.

most precious collection,"
recalled Sas. "It affected me
very much, emotionally.
Every time I remember [the
fire], it's very difficult for me."
Now Sas is working hard to
prevent such an incident —
and dozens of incidents like it
— from recurring. 'Ibgether
with Washington forestry ex-
perts, he recently devised a
five-part plan intended both
to prevent forest fires and to
aid firefighters in extinguish-
ing them efficiently.
One idea included in the


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