A young life tragically swept away

The community of Mei Ami mourns Tal Alon, victim of a flash flood.

alon family 88 298 (photo credit: Alon Family)
alon family 88 298
(photo credit: Alon Family)
Gloom descended over the picturesque Wadi Ara community of Mei Ami last week after one of the moshav's beloved sons, Tal Alon, was one of four hikers killed by a flash flood in the Judean Desert on May 12. This was the village's second loss within a year: On August 13, 2006, IDF reservist Yaniv Shinebrum fell in combat during the Second Lebanon War. Tal was the son of Ralph and Linda Alon (formerly Oakfield), who made aliya from Leicester, UK, in 1975. Aged 23 at his death, Tal was born and raised in Mei Ami, a former moshav shitufi of some 60 families that is currently undergoing privatization and expanding as second-generation members build new homes. "On the day of the disaster I was helping my daughter Danit and her husband Yuval move some things into the old house they're renovating on the moshav," sighed Ralph Alon, having risen from the shiva period. All week, hundreds of Tal's friends had sat in the Alon home to share their grief. "His girlfriend, Liat, has been here all the time. Two of the instructors from the rappelling trip came and told us what happened. I told them not to blame themselves. They're young and have to start their lives afresh. It was the most terrible day of their lives," the grieving father told Metro. Tal, Liat and close friend Yotam Shemtov were among a group of 11 experienced and inexperienced rappellers who negotiated the cavernous Wadi Qumran northwest of the Dead Sea that day. The others were friends of friends. Four of the group were trained instructors of rappelling, the process of descending a rock face on a fixed rope. They slept overnight Friday in tents in the desert, near the entrance to Qumran. For some of the group, this was the first experience of rappelling. "One of them had done the route before and knew his way around," Alon said. "They took all possible precautions. From early in the morning they repeatedly called the weather station to check about the possibility of flash floods. When they bought their tickets [to the nature reserve], they were told that there was no problem, only to leave at 5 p.m." Later in the morning, said Alon, after receiving a phone call from Jerusalem telling them that it was raining there, they contacted the Qumran information center but were given no new information nor instructions on how to get out of the wadi. Alon refuted press reports that the hikers had been forewarned in time. "By the time a park ranger shouted to them to get out, they were in the middle of the most difficult section. They asked 'How?' but he didn't know how they could get out. Some of the group had already reached the bottom - they saw the torrent of water approaching, ran to higher ground and were saved." Tal and the other three victims - Dror Koren, 23, from Herzliya; Noa Shapira, 23, from Kfar Saba; and Amit Gottleib, 23, from Rehovot - were stuck in the middle. "There was no way out but down. They had no chance. It was over in seconds. They had nowhere to go. They had taken extra precautions, but it was a closed-in area. Such a huge amount of water was unusual for this time of year. No one thought it could happen." A popular teenager, Tal attended the Democratic school in Hadera. "There he became a mensch," his father recounted. "He overcame his learning difficulties and succeeded in his studies, as well as making some wonderful friends. He loved the school; and when he was in the army, he'd go there in his uniform to chat with the kids before coming home. Tal joined the Nahal fighting unit, unlike some of his school friends who didn't serve in the army." Much of his military service was spent in the Hebron area. "They had a hard time, but he'd tell jokes. He told me a little about what they did. They were involved in terrorist attacks and going after terrorists. At one point his unit was posted to the North, and he was on Har Dov the day after Israel killed [Hamas leader] Sheikh [Ahmed] Yassin. They were under a barrage for three days. He was a fighting soldier all the way. I have pictures of him in battle dress. He was so proud of his unit, his friends - he'd do anything for them,"said Alon. After three years of sweat, he took his "obligatory" post-army trip to the Far East. "A month or two after completing his service, Tal left for India with his best friend from the army, Lior (Billy) from Yokneam. His friend Ori from the Democratic school joined them for the first few months. They stayed in the north at first, in the area of Parvati Valley. He told us it was so beautiful, and would send us photos. He loved the traditional way of life. They later stayed for a long time in a coastal village, in a hammock on the beach. Two girls from Mei Ami, both named Noam, joined them there for a while." Tal met his girlfriend, Liat, from Givatayim on Rosh Hashana, when a group of Israelis made dinner together in their guesthouse. "She joined him and Billy as traveling companions. Gradually a stronger friendship developed between Tal and Liat, and they became closer. She returned for studies in September [2005], and Tal continued with Billy to Thailand," recounted the father. In February 2006 Tal returned home, without forewarning. "He surprised us. He walked through the door - and my wife Linda almost had a heart attack!" With his military service and post-army trip behind him, it was time to find his vocation. "Tal worked as a security guard on tours through the summer, then for Egged Tours as a tour guide to support himself. He had charisma - he could take a group of unruly kids on their annual school trip who just wanted to be naughty and had no interest in nature, and within a few minutes he'd have them eating out of his hand. He was an unruly child himself - he'd tell them stories about what he'd learned, and they'd listen to him. He loved it. He'd found his niche." Tal was accepted as a guide for birthright-Taglit tours this coming summer, a role he will never fulfill. Tal is survived by his parents; sisters Danit, 29, and Keren, 28; and Danit's husband Yuval and their one-year-old son, Gilad.