Carmel fire victims laid to rest across country

Peres eulogizes blaze’s youngest victim, Elad Riven, 16: "You ran straight into the fire, and fire knows no mercy."

Elad Riven 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Elad Riven 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“You ran straight into the fire, and fire does not know mercy,” an emotional President Shimon Peres said at the funeral for 16-year-old Elad Riven on Sunday.
The teenager, who had volunteered hundreds of hours with the firefighters in Haifa, abandoned his high school civics class on Thursday and rushed to the blaze to help out. He died just a few hours later, close to the bus carrying 40 prison guards to evacuate the Damun prison. Thirtyseven of the guards also died when the bus was engulfed in fast-moving flames.
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The president’s words echoed across the country as Israelis were plunged into a day of mourning on Sunday, when two-thirds of the victims from the Carmel fires were buried. Memorials for sons, daughters, mothers and fathers – 27 funerals in one day.
The victims were mourned in heartbreaking speeches by their loved ones, testimony to families torn apart.
Riven, an only child, had called his mother from school on Thursday and asked to be picked up with his fire-fighting uniform and taken to the center of operations. When his mother tried to discourage him, he told her, “If you don’t take me, I’ll take a bus anyway.”
His parents arrived at Command Headquarters later that evening to try to track down their son, though at that point they never expected that a 16- year-old volunteer had gotten so close to the flames.
“You fell without a uniform, but like a brave soldier,” Peres told the mourners, flanked by volunteer firefighters.
Most of the victims from the Carmel blaze were in their 20s and 30s, leaving behind gaping holes in their young families. More than 30 children lost a parent.
In addition to the 37 guards, three other service members were killed – two police officers and one firefighter.
Many of the families were forced to wait until Sunday for the funerals because it took almost three days for forensics experts to complete the identification of the badly burned bodies based on DNA and dental records.
Nava Boker, wife of Israel Police Lt.-Cmdr. Lior Boker, had called her husband just a few minutes after he entered the area of the fires on his way to try to rescue the guards on Thursday afternoon. “I can’t talk right now,” he told her, and hung up. That was the last time they spoke.
“Dad, I didn’t know what a hero you were. Look at how many people came to lay you to rest,” Boker’s daughter told the crowd of hundreds in Pardess Hanna.
Israel Police Insp.-Gen.
David Cohen eulogized Ch.-Supt. Yitzhak Melina for his dedication to saving lives above all else at a service in Haifa.
Melina’s wife, Carmelit, said that they always loved Hanukka because they were married during the holiday.
“When I heard there was a fire, I thought, that’s terrible, but I never imagined it could be affecting us like this,” she said at the funeral.
Warden Hen Kfir had been with the prisons system for three years and was considering skipping the commander’s course in order to spend more time at home with his wife and baby daughter.
“You’re the best brother that I had, and today I’m so sorry that we didn’t hang out more and I wasn’t able to tell you so many things,” Kfir’s sister Efrat said at his funeral in Gan Yavne. “It’s such a shame that we didn’t make sure that you knew how meaningful you were to each one of us. Today a black hole has opened in our lives that we can’t close.”
The parents of 34-year-old Efrat Cohen are hoping that rescue workers will find Cohen’s engagement ring in the wreckage; she received it just three weeks ago from her fiancé Amnon Meir. “She always told us, ‘You can’t judge the prisoners, because if they had been born in a different home their lives would look totally different,’” her parents said at the service.
Deputy Warden Nina Suliman, head of Behavioral Sciences for the Prisons Service, told Army Radio that despite the fact that the organization had never dealt with a tragedy of this size, the Prisons Service’s strong social services network would help staffers, and that each of the victims’ families would be assigned a social worker.
“It’s not going to be easy now, and it’s not going to be easy in the next few days. But little by little people will return to their regular roles and it’s important that they keep the faith,” she said. “We [prison guards] don’t have the privilege of not working.”
The Prisons Service sent a representative to each of the 27 funerals. Many of the staffers compared the organization to a “big family,” and Suliman noted that several of the victims were married to Prisons Service employees they met while working in the prisons.
“There’s something really like a family in this organization,” Suliman said. “And families won’t be abandoned.”
For 41 families across the country, the tragedy has forever changed the meaning of Hanukka, a celebration of one tiny light that burned for eight days. This fire burned for four, with no compassion, indifferent to the lives it destroyed, and the families it left bereft.