Seven of the 10 students killed in flash floods during a hike in the Dead Sea area were being laid to rest on Friday afternoon, with their bereft parents, siblings and friends eulogizing them in turn as noble would-be leaders, firm “lovers of life,” and their “little girls.”
Seven of the funerals — those of Ella Or, Maayan Barhoum, Yael Sadan, Romi Cohen, Agam Levy, Shani Shamir and Tzur Alfi — took place just after noon, drawing thousands of mourners.
Two others were initially set for later in the day. Adi Raanan from the coastal village of Mikhmoret, was to be buried at 6 p.m. and Ilan Bar Shalom was to be laid to rest at 2:30 p.m. in Rishon Lezion. The remaining student, Gali Balali, was to be buried on Sunday in her hometown of Givatayim. (Ultimately all three of those funerals were held on Sunday.)
The 10 were part of a group of 25 students on a hike organized by the Bnei Zion pre-military academy in Tel Aviv, and were set to attend its program in the coming year. Their deaths Thursday amid unseasonable rains and warnings of flash floods in the riverbed where they were hiking, Tzafit, shocked the country.
The mother of Ella Or, Sarit, spoke at her funeral at the Mishor Adumim cemetery near her hometown of Ma’ale Adumim.
“Our Ella, we came to say goodbye. Little girl, girl with so much energy and happiness,” she said, recalling the concern she had expressed for her daughter’s well-being on the hike and the assurances she received from the pre-military academy’s guides.
“They promised that everything would be okay and safe. But nothing is okay,” she said.
“You sent me a picture in the morning in the tent and wrote to me not to worry,” she said, addressing Ella over the grave. “I asked you not to put too much weight on your back. You haven’t answered me since.”
At Tzur Alfi’s funeral at the municipal cemetery of his home of Mazkeret Batya, his grandmother Pnina recalled the testimony of the surviving youths about Alfi’s heroism. They said he was holding on to a rock in the torrent, and instead of scrambling to safety, let others climb on him to get out of the water. He was carried away by the flood before he could get out himself.
“I heard that you tried to help your friends, to save them. That’s the noblest kind of sacrifice, of someone born to lead. It fits you. You loved everyone and you sacrificed yourself for them,” his grandmother said.
“We have no anger, only love,” added Alfi’s father. “We embrace all the group from this precious program. Condolences to all the program, we aren’t angry at anyone. Continue hiking and being good.”
Hundreds took part in the funeral for Yael Sadan in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul cemetery.
Her father Kobi called her his “supreme happiness. I just can’t believe it. This isn’t how the world works, my child. What wouldn’t I do for your happiness? What kind of life is this, when you can be picked off like that, for no reason? I can’t leave you. You will be engraved on my heart forever.”
Sadan’s boyfriend of six years eulogized her. “I am who I am because of you. Thank you for letting me be in your company so many years. I’m trying to figure out how I continue from here. You will always be my first love, and I won’t ever forget you.”
At her funeral in Shoham, Shani Shamir’s sister called her “part of me. You may not have returned from the hike, but you’re definitely hiking up there in heaven right now. I won’t forget your last picture you sent us all on Whatsapp [with the caption] ‘I’m alive.'”
Her mother Yael added that “you loved life and life loved you. You were taken too soon.”
At Romi Cohen’s home in the village of Maor near Hadera, her uncle Gil Shlomo told reporters the family would demand an investigation.
“The loss is so great, so great. The family is falling apart. It’s hard to describe the feeling, the pain.
“We want an investigation. We won’t let this pass. We want to make sure the next group doesn’t have to experience a failure like this. This was a failure. Ten families were destroyed.”
As the seven funerals got underway, President Reuven Rivlin sent his condolences to the families.
“How much sorrow is sweeping the nation this morning,” said Rivlin on Friday. “We lost wonderful children, the best of our youth. Full of promises, full of expectations and [leaving us with] a broken heart.”
Rivlin thanked the rescue crews, IDF, police and volunteers who helped rescue and locate the survivors and bodies.
“From here I turn to the citizens of Israel with a plea: Please, go out to hike only after you checked you’re in a safe area. Don’t take unnecessary risks,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “all of Israel” mourned the students.
“In this difficult hour, our hearts are with the families who suffer in their grief, a sorrow of which there is none heavier,” he said. “Their children were taken at the dawn of their lives. They were full of love for the nation, the land, the people. They just wanted to give.”
“There are no words of comfort apart from the embrace we give to the families, friends and students of the Bnei Zion pre-military academy,” he said. “We’re with you. We’ll always be with you.”
The head of the pre-military academy and an instructor were arrested on Friday on suspicion of negligent homicide in ignoring the flash flood warnings.