A year ago Friday, Josh Cohen snuck us into his burning village, Ein Hod, after all our efforts to circumvent the roadblocks and get into the town failed. For an entire day he showed us around the burning homes and smoking wood.
The next day, when photographer Alex Levac and I came back to the fire, Josh phoned us and warned us to take cover. "Quickly, the planes are dropping hazardous materials," he said. This was when the huge Russian firefighting aircraft was spewing out some red liquid at the blazes that refused to go out.
Josh became our friend.
On Wednesday, I sent him an SMS. We arranged to meet on Thursday at his village, to mark a year since the devastating Carmel forest fire. In the afternoon, he called Levac and asked him to bring up his album of pictures from the fire. He also wanted to tell the photographer a bit about everything that had happened in the past year, but Levac said, "Wait. You'll tell us tomorrow."
Thus, we traveled northward to Ein Hod, to Josh's home, so we could recall those horrific days last year and visit his recovering village. There was the same dilapidated Mitsubishi he had snuck us past the roadblocks in, the same home that Josh had built with his own hands, which he was planning to move out of, to a new home in Atlit.
There were a few women sitting silently on the porch. "Who are you looking for? Josh? Josh is dead," said one of the red-eyed women.
His wife then came down from the mountain and told us drily, "You came too late."
On Thursday, at 3 P.M., Josh Cohen, graphic artist, was buried in his village, and we were left in shock, standing with Levac's album, with no one to show it to.
The trees on the mountains facing Ein Hod also met a sudden death, like Josh. A year ago Friday, the green hill turned red, and then black. Now it is gray, very gray.
The remains of the Feigins' house, and the Keiners' destroyed home, remain as they were, a year ago Friday.
Then the fires were still burning, and on the gate of the Keiners' home there was a death notice announcing the passing of the father of the family, Reuven Keiner, who had been killed in a car accident only a day or two before the fire broke out. But the sooty ruins of the house are still there - nothing has changed, except for a street cat that suddenly jumped out of the ashes.
The lot on which the home of sculptor Valentina Lazar once stood is surrounded with a greenish tarp. The house was totaled last year, with only the sculptures of women that surrounded it surviving the fire. Now the sculptures are gone, and the concrete floor is being laid for the new house that is going to be built.
Ein Hod is recovering. But for those who lost their loved ones, the pain is still sharp and will probably remain so until the hills turn green again.
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