Thousands of young people gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday for a vigil in memory of ten teenagers who were killed in flash floods in Nahal Tsafit while on a trip organized by a pre-military preparatory program.
Participants lit candles as some formed song circles and others draped themselves in the Israeli flag.
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"I really hope that this incident doesn't change the character of the preparatory programs," Noy Bachar, a 21-year-old soldier, said. "Now people think the programs are irresponsible places. A negative image has been created, but it's exactly the opposite of what the programs represent. It's a world that will always continue to do things for the country."
Ariel Konkol, 17, said that last week she met one of the victims. "It's impossible to forget her big smile," she said. "An insanely funny girl who always elevated everyone's mood."
Noam Ben Yair, an 18-year-old yeshiva student, stood out in the crowd that was at first mostly comprised of secular people. "All my friends heard about the disaster and told me they want to be here," he said. "The fact that the dead are secular does not change a thing for us." Asked whether he also heard about the non-Jews who also died in flash floods this week, he responsed: "Honestly, no I was glued to the news for the past few days, and no one mentioned them. It's too bad that I didn't hear about them. It hurts me just as much."
Police have begun investigating the circumstances surrounding the disaster, with one counselor telling investigators that she warned organizers about the weather and urged them to cancel the trip.
Meanwhile, the families of the 10 teenage hikers are demanding answers as to how such a disaster could have occurred. Several parents and members of the program raised concerns to staff before the trip and received reassurances.