I often have plans to write happy, uplifting, informative posts about my new home, Israel. About the places we visit, the people, the culture, the food. And then something unexpected happens that delays the planned posts. This past week was another of those times.
When we first told family and friends of our decision to uproot our home and our lives in Thousand Oaks, California and move to Israel, many people thought we were absolutely crazy. To give up a life of relative comfort and affluence and start all over in an entirely new country; to have to learn a whole new language and culture – but most importantly, to put ourselves in the line of danger with imminent wars and terror attacks. Add to that, our son would be serving in the IDF, and it was way over the top for some people. You see, Thousand Oaks was a beautiful, upscale, safe little city nestled in the Conejo Valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains and hiking trails. Close to the ocean, Between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. A little piece of heaven. A bubble of tranquility. Ours was a friendly, tightly knit community, with family friendly activities, hundreds of places of worship, great culture and shopping. It was the perfect place to raise a family because it was just so safe. (In many ways it looked a lot like Karmi’el, where we live now… see pictures below-)
Just last Wednesday night (Thursday morning for us), all that was shattered. My son, home on leave, was Skyping with one of his TO buddies when the news came. His friend was thinking of going down to the Borderline for College Night. The Borderline is only about a mile or so from our old home. It’s one of the only Country Western dance places in the LA area – a place where the locals go, wholesome and all-American, and a favorite spot for the college kids from around the area. As they were talking, the sirens could be heard, and news would soon come of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. In the end 13 people were dead, including a local sheriff, the gunman, and three of my son’s acquaintances. Things like that are not supposed to happen there…
As we were reeling from the devastating news, glued to livestream news on our computer, and even before anyone could catch their breath from the massacre, we started getting news of a rapidly spreading brush fire. By Thursday night, the flames were on the ridge lines of the mountains above Thousand Oaks, Oak Park, and Agoura, our “stomping grounds.” Another fire was barreling down Newbury Park, where our daughter and her young family lives. I tried to stay connected via social media as scores of our friends were being evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night. As the fire, fanned by the intense Santa Anna winds engulfed whole neighborhoods, we were hearing from people who were moved 3-5 times from one evacuation center to another. It was heartbreaking to see the homes go up in the hellish inferno, embers being kicked up by the winds and fanned into neighborhoods blocks away. We knew people in every neighborhood affected.
Our daughter had her bags packed and ready to go (more on that later), and through the night we were mapping out escape routes viable to them. The major freeway had been closed down in both directions; the pathway to the Pacific Ocean and Malibu was blocked because the fires had spread across the 101 freeway. A couple of our neighbors, graciously offered to take them in in the event of evacuation. We were praying and fasting for all those affected, now Westlake Village, Lake Sherwood, Hidden Hills, West Hills, Bell Canyon area, Calabassas, Malibu, parts of Camarillo and Simi Valley. Our home. Our lives for over 30 years. Our friends. We were praying for the firefighters. One of our friends is a battalion captain; another friend’s son a firefighter for LA. We were seeing images posted on Instagram and Facebook, and the live news coverage from all our local California TV stations. Horrific images.
Our kids are all safe and out of danger now, thank G-d. Most of my friends who had to leave the area I’ve heard from as I write this. We don’t know yet how their homes fared, just that they are safe. Then there are the others (if you are reading this, please just let us know how you’ve fared, if possible): 2 friends in the Bell Canyon/Santa Sue area; 4 friends in Agoura; 2 in Malibu near the high school; 3 friends in Oak Park. You are all being prayed for fervently. Still waiting for news on Westlake Village especially the ridge lines above St. Jude’s and around the lake. Yikes! I can’t even begin to imagine the horror you are living through!!!!
It is so important, no matter where you live, or how safe you think you are, to have a family emergency plan, and your “bug out” bags packed and ready to go. That is the absolute first thing we did when we moved to Israel. I am amazed at how many people don’t have this. It provides a cushion and a little peace of mind knowing you are ready when disaster strikes. I have a backpack ready-to-go for each member of the family. We keep one set in our car trunk and one set in the house. It contains(between the three of us here):
- copies of important documents/papers
a change of clothes/a pair of heavy shoes and sweatshirt next to the bags
- first aid kit
- hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, wipes, deodorant, lip balm)in a plastic baggie
- water bottles
- rain poncho/emergency blanket (very small pouch)
- snack foods/energy bars/instant foods
- a bit of extra cash if the ATMs are down
- a small Bible/prayerbook
- contact list and phone/laptop chargers
These are just the basic things to grab and go. Learn basic emergency procedures so you can take care of yourself, family, and even be a help to others. One never knows, and it might be a while until help comes. Be prepared. (For those in Israel who read this, both my husband and I were certified in the States and can teach basic classes…)
Hopefully, the worst is behind us. Back home, it will be a long haul, but the rebuilding of homes and lives will come. I leave you with some photos of our beautiful hometown….
May G-d send comfort, bless and protect us all-