The duality of the creative and destructive forces of fire has always intrigued me, perhaps partly because my life began with fire. When I was a baby, my family home was destroyed by arson. Rather than keep me in America while my father began the arduous work of re-building, my mom took me back to her native country of Israel. What was intended to be a month-long trip became longer and longer… so long, in fact, that America began to feel like a distant dream. When we returned home, my father barely recognized me. The American baby he’d held in his arms had come back walking with sure steps, speaking in Hebrew, and tethered to Israel by an invisible string that has remained strong throughout my life. Without the fire that took my home, I may never have experienced that transformation.
In Bentzi Avtzon’s documentary, The Light Of Fire, there is another kind of transformation. Yoram Raanan, who had been a successful artist, loses his studio and 40 years of artwork in a fire. While his wife and children mourn the loss, Yoram pushes forward… rebuilding the studio and developing an entirely new way of painting.
As I watched the documentary, I was torn. Did Yoram really not feel the deep grief that so deeply affected the rest of his family? Had the fire really left him untouched? Or was he simply burying his sorrow in his art?
At times, Yoram comes across as callous, a man so driven by his work that he misses the life that is happening right in front of him. As his wife and children speak in soft voices about their sadness, Yoram firmly states his resolve to move forward. And the more he demands to move forward, the bigger the distance between him and his family grows. The fire seems to have done nothing but harden him further.
But, then, slowly, through his art, a different picture emerges. Colors change, textures get reinvented, new materials are used. And, as the images on the canvas shift, so too does his relationship with his wife and children.
In the end… we find both the artist and his work transformed. A transformation that may never have occurred without the fire.
The Light Of Fire tells a simple, yet profound story of how new beginnings can arise from the ashes of destruction, a story perhaps even more relevant as Chanukah draws nearer.