If you want to thank a firefighter battling the many lightning-sparked wildfires in Northern California, “todah rabah” might be appropriate. That’s because on Aug. 30, Israel sent 10 of its best and bravest to help extinguish the blazes.
The two-week deployment of these Israeli firefighters, all of whom volunteered for the mission, will help the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection beat back the fires that have torched hundreds of thousands of acres across the region, largely in Sonoma, Napa, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
As our story this week makes clear, their assistance was warmly welcomed, both by local politicians and by the Jewish community. This marks the first time Israel has sent a team of on-the-ground firefighters to the United States, but Israel’s desire to help should surprise no one.
Israel and California have long had a special relationship. Cultural, technological and agricultural exchanges are routine, many of them formalized in a memorandum of understanding signed in 2014. Tens of thousands of Israelis live in the Bay Area, with many working in the tech sector, and have become part of our fabric of life.
But there is more to the relationship than mutually beneficial exchanges.
When natural disasters strike around the world, Israelis show up to help, no matter whom the catastrophes affect. In 2010, more than 200 Israeli doctors, rescue and relief workers flew to Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake. Last September, the Israeli NGO IsraAid sent an emergency-response team to the hurricane-battered Bahamas, offering immediate relief, psychological help and water filters. In between those two missions were hundreds more, from Ethiopia to Brazil to Nepal.
That is also why IsraAid is in the Bay Area right now, helping out with desperately needed emergency food distribution during the pandemic. The agency, which has a Palo Alto office, recruited local volunteers from the Jewish community to assist food pantries in San Francisco, Marin and the South Bay.
Our story this week reveals the pride these volunteers feel in donning their IsraAid T-shirts and letting other food pantry workers know that Israel and the Bay Area Jewish community care enough to show up.
The impulse to take action in the face of disaster that we see in our Israeli family — because they are family — signals to all that our common humanity takes precedence over politics. Long after the fires abate and the coronavirus fades, Californians will remember that Israel extended a hand.
We collectively say thank you — “todah rabah.”