The story below shares the personal experiences of JDC employee Amir Natan, as he and his family escaped the fire that has engulfed Israel’s Carmel Forest.

“All residents must immediately evacuate their homes. The fire is moving toward Ein Hod. Danger! Hurry out of the village immediately…”

That’s what I heard this past Thursday, on my way home from work. We’re used to emergencies here – the army, the terror attacks – but since I became the father of three, a year ago, it feels different this time.

What do I take with me? My wife, three children, two photo albums… some personal letters, the laptop computer… a set of clothes for work (just to play it safe… surely we’ll be back by Sunday…) That’s it. We’re gone!

Already when fleeing the village, you’re thrown into a new reality – the smell of fire; thick, black smoke; traffic at 9 pm on the Carmel; ambulances and of course fire engines. It forces you to think of what is most important – life, the people dearest to you, the memories you left at home and, and most of all – what’s next? For me, and for all the tens of thousands whose lives and futures rest on this great mountain?

Following a career in business, I have invested the past decade of my life in social entrepreneurship – especially the topic of employment among those outside the workforce (new immigrants, people with disabilities, disadvantaged young adults, etc).

It’s been my privilege to establish Strive Israel, and to help dozens of people integrate into Israel’s job market, develop careers, and so break out of the cycle of poverty. My work has helped me understand how critical employment is in helping people to be in control of their lives.

And I’ve been involved in the topic of Green Jobs, but mainly on a theoretical level. Until last Thursday, I did not understand the strong connection between the environment and jobs. But the convoy that I was in two nights ago because of the fire gave me the time to think about this. More than anything it showed me the huge quantity of men, women and children whose futures are tied up in this unique environment, this mountain that the fire has consumed.

You don’t have to be close to the fire to be burned

Many of my friends and associates always saw the green mountain as a source of livelihood and based their financial independence on this tremendous, splendid natural resource. The ecological disaster is almost too great to bear.

But I am busy translating the hundreds of acres wiped out to an even greater number. Hundreds of acres burned includes the residential areas and centers full of businesses, small and large…

As the smoke starts to lift, the rumors say that they are beginning to take control of the fire. But to my great sorrow, the fire hasn’t had its final word and its victims cannot yet be counted. And that is because the future of so many families remains a question. If we don’t take an immediate employment approach to address the economic damage now only beginning to affect the area’s residents, the evil fire will continue to burn away at the lives of so many.

We need to take immediate pro-active steps to help existing businesses and to create new jobs, through training, courses, on-the-job guidance and entrepreneurship. We need to create a platform on which we can build a community of the employment ventures in the Carmel. We need to have regular meetings to learn, to network and to develop the businesses.

As a community venture, anyone getting help will also give back, in order to help other people and new ventures. And we’ll use all the techniques we can to make this happen:

  • Professional Dream Teams, bringing experienced professionals together to create new business ventures where 1+1=3;
  • It Works, proven processes to enable job-seekers to find work;
  • By The People, an innovative model for creating new businesses together with community service;
  • Social Entrepreneur Accelerators, providing guidance for creating business models.

Restoring the forest can take a century. Renewing the opportunities and employment of the forest’s residents should start tomorrow. We have to work together to create and support the economic redevelopment of one of the most beautiful places on earth. We will all grow.

I just realized – I forgot my belt and my work shoes. And the kindergarten will be closed tomorrow. Maybe it burned down. I’ll wear jeans and sandals to work – and together, we’ll find solutions.

Amir Natan is a social entrepreneur and was involved in founding STRIVE Israel with JDC’s TEVET Employment Initiative. Following an intensive month long course, STRIVE leads chronically unemployed people to job readiness and financial self-sufficiency through immediate employment. In Israel the program operates in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and it has served 1,100 participants since 2006 – 80% of whom have succeeded in finding and keeping gainful jobs.

Today Amir continues his social entrepreneurship with JDC’s TEVET Employment Initiative in developing directions for the employment of Israelis with disabilities.

courtesy The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee