It was 2 a.m. There was a fierce dry wind, and the acrid smell of burning trees hung in the air when firefighters ordered Yoram Raanan and other residents of Moshav Beit Meir, a small communal village nine miles west of Jerusalem, to evacuate their homes.

Raanan, an American-Israeli artist, and his wife, Meira, grabbed some personal items and jumped into their car, only to find a long line of cars ahead of them, unable to move.

“We found out that the main exit was on fire so we headed in a different direction,” Yoram Raanan, 65, said of that November night nearly two years ago. “Before we got out of the moshav (village), I saw my studio go up in flames. I saw right away there wouldn’t be anything left.”

Michele Chabin, RNS photo

Yoram and Meira Raanan relied on their Jewish faith after a fire destroyed Yoram’s art studio.

Most of his life’s work — including more than 1,500 paintings and 2,000 drawings, watercolors and prints, many with religious themes — was destroyed in minutes. Among them were 160 paintings inspired by the Torah’s weekly parasha, a section of the Torah read in synagogues, created over a three-year period. Another five in that series survived, along with the house.

As the couple fled, navigating their way through back roads edged in on both sides by flaming trees, Yoram told Meira, “Gam zu l’tovah,” which is Hebrew for “Everything is for the best” — even when it doesn’t seem so.

“In my heart I felt something good would come out of this, that this was surely the work of God,” Yoram Raanan said.

An observant Jew, he acknowledges that his belief in God wasn’t always this strong.

Raised in Passaic, N.J., by parents he calls “Conservadox” — somewhere between Conservative and Orthodox — Raanan spent his summers at Jewish camp but became disillusioned with Judaism as he got into his teens. He thought it was hypocritical that his family kept kosher at home but ate fish at nonkosher restaurants.

“Judaism wasn’t inspiring me at this point,” he said. “I was an angry young man. I said, ‘Goodbye, I don’t need you.'”

For a while, art and the Grateful Dead filled the place religion once held. “They opened my subconscious and superconscious mind,” Raanan said, his eyes bright. “It transported me to a different world.”

After graduating from art school, Raanan embarked on an around-the-world trip. On his …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News


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After fire destroys his life’s work, Jewish artist relies on faith and begins again

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