Last Friday, Linda A. Hurwitz had just finished baking challah — like she does before every Shabbat — and happened to have an extra loaf in the oven.

So Hurwitz, chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, raced over to the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company station to deliver the challah to five firefighters embarking on the first leg of a journey to help extinguish wildfires in Israel.

“They were on their way to JFK [Airport in New York], so I figured, ‘Why not let them enjoy this for Shabbos while they’re on their trip?’” Hurwitz said. “I ran over to give them a hug and a homemade challah.

“I make challah, they fight fires,” she said with a laugh. “It’s the least I can do. The challah was really fresh, right out of the oven.”

Besides baking challah, Hurwitz was the catalyst for obtaining funding from the Associated for the five firefighters to be transported to Israel, where they will help with emergency services there for the next eight days. They arrived in Israel on Saturday afternoon.

Four of the firefighters were EMT/firefighter Jason Broth, paramedic/firefighter Howie Cohen and Capt. Scott Goldstein, all of PVFC, and paramedic/firefighter Sholom Reches of Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Company in Owings Mills. The other firefighter, Jerry Ezrine, belongs to a volunteer fire company in the Detroit area.

“We arrived Saturday morning and were met by members of the [Israel Defense Forces] and other Israeli agencies who requested our assistance,” Capt. Goldstein wrote in an email on Monday to Jmore. “Upon arrival, we were assigned to the Herzliya Fire Station and immediately were briefed on the situation and met the crews.  … The following day, [we] were staged at a West Bank fire station where the fire danger was high. … The Israeli firefighters have been working mandatory double shifts since the fires broke out, and our role has been more to bolster staffing in depleted regions.”
Last Friday, Israel’s Public Security Ministry requested firefighting assistance from the Emergency Volunteers Project, a network of over 950 American volunteers and professional first responders.

The wildfires, which were largely subdued on Sunday, raged across Israel for nearly a week, consuming as much as 32,000 acres of forest and brush across the country. Tens of thousands of Israelis fled their homes, and hundreds of buildings were burned to the ground. Dozens of people were injured in the wildfires, but no one was killed.

According to security officials, an unseasonably dry stretch of weather and high winds started the fires, which then inspired alleged Arab arsonists to join in. About 2,000 Israeli firefighters fought the blazes around the clock, while receiving assistance from a dozen countries from around the world.

Two of the firefighters who went on the local mission are Orthodox and received dispensations from their rabbis to travel on Shabbat according to the Jewish legal principle of Pikuach Nefesh, which allows the superseding of certain religious prohibitions for the preservation of human life.

Hurwitz said she was first informed last Thursday by Yossi Kelemer, a local businessman and Associated supporter, about the firefighters’ need for funds for transportation to Israel.

“When we heard about the fires in Israel, many community members wanted to do whatever we could to help,” Hurwitz said.

Hurwitz approached the Associated’s board and obtained the necessary funds from the federation’s Israel and Overseas Programs Allocations budget.

“This is what we’re all about,” she said. “Whenever there’s a crisis here or in Israel or anywhere around the world, this is what we do. We respond and help. We’re here to help.”

Hurwitz said she was proud of the federation and the firefighters.

“I’m so proud of how [the firefighters] dropped everything in their lives to run and do what’s necessary,” she said. “And I’m so proud of this community for doing something like this for our homeland, all in a 24-hour period. We all wanted to help these people [in Israel] who have lost so much. It was very scary, but this is an example of what we can do as a federated system.”

To help the Associated and its mission, Hurwitz suggested that people make donations to the federation tomorrow, Nov. 29, for #Giving Tuesday. For information, visit

“Every dollar counts so that we can do things like this,” Hurwitz said.

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