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Born by Fire

Gershon Burstyn

Losing decades’ worth of work in a devastating inferno could have been the ultimate tragedy. But for artist Yoram Raanan it’s become a kiln for renewal

Thursday, June 21, 2018

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No, his life isn’t over. In fact, the klalah was a brachah, the curse a blessing in disguise. Yes, he lost all his work, but he also earned a new beginning, a time to restart, refresh, and renew. If it sounds too good to be true — it almost is (Photos: Elchanan Kotler)

A s his studio burned to the ground, Yoram Raanan couldn’t help but notice the beauty.

His wife had stirred him from sleep in that same studio, where he often slept, just minutes before. A wildfire was approaching from the east, she told him, and they had to get out fast. So he grabbed his tallis and tefillin, a USB drive and his car keys, and walked out the door of the studio, the one he had been building for 25 years.

Inside there were about 2,000 paintings, everything from tiny experimentations to wall-sized masterpieces. They were hanging on the walls and lined up dozens-deep in the corners; propped up on easels and waiting their turn on a framing table; carefully organized in steel shelving units and resting on bookshelves. Everywhere there was light and color, an explosion of blues and reds; ethereal light filtering down from the Shamayim and angles fluttering their wings; Avraham Avinu embracing his beloved son, and Klal Yisrael arrayed at the fiery mountain awaiting their wedding night.

There was a book collection over 50 years in the making, tomes in art history first purchased as a teen, and a record collection with hundreds of jazz classics. There was also turpentine, oil paint, linseed oil, a huge pile of firewood chopped for the winter chill, and boxes and boxes of gefet — olive pulp left over from the pressing — all to make the lighting easier.

As Yoram Raanan walked out of his studio in Moshav Beit Meir outside Jerusalem, for the last time, he passed two giant date palms, saplings not even knee high when he first put them in the rocky ground two decades earlier. But at that moment, he wasn’t thinking about any of that. All he could do was stare at the fire, the embers rising in the air, and wonder at the orange glow streaked across the sky.

“I found it very poetic, to tell you the truth,” says Raanan, 65, sitting in his new studio on a recent afternoon. “It was just… the sparks and the leaves were just starting to ignite and they were sort of fluttering down, the eucalyptus leaves flying down like, you know, little angels. And I just thought it was very poetic, very beautiful.”

“I’m trying to be much more authentic in what I’m doing. There is less ‘should’ now, less trying to please, less posing. Bitul is becoming much more part of my life”

An artist sees beauty where others see destruction. And Yoram Raanan saw rebirth where others would have seen devastation.

It has been 15 months now since everything was destroyed, at least $2 million worth of work, the inheritance he was saving for his children and grandchildren. But Raanan seems happy and contented on this day, sitting comfortably in a wooden chair, back straight, eyes bright. If Yoram Raanan were a bird, he would be a wise old owl, observing the folly of the world and giving a little chuckle.

No, his life isn’t over. In fact, the klalah was a brachah, the curse a blessing in disguise. Yes, he lost all his work, but he also earned a new beginning, a time to restart, refresh, and renew. If it sounds too good to be true — it almost is.

“It’s just things,” he says.

Even as he and his wife raced out of the moshav that night, he turned to her and told her everything would be for the best.

“And she said ‘What? What are you talking about?’ ”

“I said, ‘You’ll see that a lot of good is going to come out of this.’”

And it has.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 714)

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