A little over a week since hundreds of their countrymen lost their lives when a boat capsized off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, well over a thousand Eritrean asylum-seekers gathered in Lewinsky Park in Tel Aviv on Saturday morning to hold a memorial service.
One man was particularly broken up and as he spoke, he mentioned the tragedy from Friday, when at least 27 African migrants died after their boat also capsized near Lampedusa. As he mentioned that tragedy, wails and sobbing could be heard spontaneously breaking out across the crowd.
With many in the crowd in tears or with their heads bowed in prayer, Christian and Muslim leaders from the community gave words of benediction and lit memorial candles on the pavement at the center of the park. One after another, speakers took to the stage, their voices choked back with tears, and read short speeches on the disaster.
The sobbing was apparent both at the main rally and at separate circles off to the sides, where attendees said supporters of the Eritrean community had gathered.
Organizers of the protest said this week that many in the Eritrean migrant community in Israel had lost loved ones in the tragedy, and that they had spent the past week visiting and comforting one bereaved family after another.
“Our brothers and sisters died a horrific death trying to reach safety.
Our brothers and sisters, just like us in Israel, were fleeing a dictatorship that enslaves, persecutes and tortures its citizens. Just like us, they were hoping to live free and dignified lives.”