As the fire raged in the forests near Haifa, Keddy Ben Chorin made a fateful decision: She went to school. Waiting to pick her up at the end of the day, her family spied a dog that seemed to have lost its owner. Keddy and her younger brother, Ely, were determined to take care of the dog. They became heroes of a kind that day, at least to the dog and its owner.
It was Friday, Dec. 3. Israel’s worst-ever fire was whipping through the Carmel Forest, and Keddy’s family could see the smoke from the terrace of their Haifa apartment. Ely, eight, was already off for the Hanukka break, but 11-year-old Keddy was not.
“There was a weird mood at home and around town,” said Keddy’s mother, Jenn Cohen, who is originally from New Jersey.
“From the porch you could see all this smoke — it was kind of freaky,” said Keddy, short for Shakaed.
“It was a heavy, thick cloud,” said her father, Rabbi Golan Ben Chorin, an educational consultant who this year is working with Bnai Keshet, a Reconstructionist congregation in Montclair.
Members of the family talked to NJJN Dec. 12 via Skype, the Internet communication system.
Despite the fire, Keddy decided to go to school — where she described the mood as strained. “They were not talking or showing anything, but there was a feeling of tenseness,” she said. “We weren’t scared. We knew this was something big but that nothing was going to happen. But all tests were cancelled and if you didn’t come to school, the teachers couldn’t take off from your grade.”
At the end of the day, Ely recalled, “We were sitting on a bench outside Keddy’s school. And we saw a dog. A lot of people were getting on city buses and playing with the dog. It had a leash but not a collar. Then, we saw it walking around the street — just walking and sniffing at everything.”
Because of the bright red leash, and the dog’s behavior, they suspected that the black Labrador, which had a hint of white around its mouth, was lost.
“It was getting close to Shabbat, maybe 2:30 or 3 p.m.,” said Golan, and they decided if they couldn’t locate the owner, they would take it home until after Shabbat.
Meanwhile, several neighborhoods had already been evacuated. The family called the police and Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency service, saying, according to Golan, “We know you are struggling with bigger issues, but we found this stray dog and we don’t know what to do.” Neither agency could help; even the municipal vet was busy, the family learned, because a lot of animals were abandoned as people were being evacuated. But the vet’s office said they would try to send someone to their house.
Keddy and Ely said they played with the dog and hoped they would get to spend Shabbat together.
But after about half an hour, Ely spotted a man “walking, walking, walking, and then running toward the dog.”
“The dog embraced the man and the man embraced the dog,” said Golan. “Everyone was happy — except our little kids who lost their plans to spend Shabbat with Nagua, the dog.”
Nagua’s owner said he and his wife live in Denya, an area in Haifa that was evacuated. They went to stay with friends in Carmel Center, near Keddy’s school. But busy with work — his wife works for an organization that was helping displaced residents — they didn’t notice that their dog had wandered away.
“It was really fun to play with the dog, but I think it was a little scary for the dog,” said Ely. Shakaed found the incident “depressing,” she said.
“With the fire going on, I was wondering — I had a weird thought — what if we hadn’t found the dog? Would it have kept going and gotten hurt in the fire?”