Teen helps out after fire

Shoham Jellinek, Yardena Cohen and Abi Levy help out at one of Gift’s emergency toy collections for Israeli children evacuated due to the fire

Shoham Jellinek, Yardena Cohen and Abi Levy help out at one of Gift’s emergency toy collections for Israeli children evacuated due to the fire

A British teenager has spent a week clearing debris from buildings ravaged by the Carmel forest fire in the Yemin Orde Youth Aliyah village.

Benjamin Winton, 19, and from Golders Green, is one of a number of people from the Anglo-Jewish community who have responded to the damage by giving up their time or money.

Home to around 500 children from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of them Ethiopian or Russian immigrants, the village is located near Haifa.

It suffered catastrophic damage in the worst forest fire in Israeli history, with some 40 per cent of the buildings partially destroyed and the home of the village's youngest residents burnt to the ground.

Youth Aliyah officials said they needed to raise £650,000 to initially repair the damage, but would require £6.5 million in the coming months.

Mr Winton, currently studying at a yeshiva in the north of Israel as part of his gap year, contacted an Israeli charity in the aftermath of the fire.

He has spent a week with hundreds of other volunteers from around the world removing scorched objects from buildings and helping to rebuild houses.

"I really got the feeling that this is a national crisis," he said. "Since I was so close by I thought it would be a good thing to do with my time and it makes it even more personal to help other young people.

"When I arrived I was surprised that you could still smell fire in the air. It all felt incredibly immediate.

"It's devastating looking at the mountains and seeing them completely scarred," he said.

"And we are only working on a small part of a much greater project. There are more houses to clear but it's the ecological work that will take an extraordinarily long time."

Mr Winton added: "There is a sense of getting things back together, not a sense of desperation."

Teenagers on the Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) gap year scheme spent an evening in central Jerusalem appealing for donations to help rebuild Yemin Orde. Members of the youth movement in Britain also raised more than £2,500 after they set up a Just Giving page.

More than £5,000 was also raised for the charity by guests at a coffee morning in north London last week.

Miriam Davis, who hosted the event with her friend Tina Curtis, said the reports of the damage to Yemin Orde reminded her of her visit to Neve Hadassah, another Youth Aliyah village near Netanya.

"I thought we needed to do something quickly, and I knew that the money would get to those in need.

"Money is still coming in – it's not bad for a few cups of coffee."

    Last updated: 3:14pm, December 22 2010