JERUSALEM — The fire that killed 43 Israelis last weekend not only destroyed some 12,400 acres of Carmel forest land and 250 homes.
It devastated the families of the victims, including three from areas that are partner communities with MetroWest via the Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2000 program.
Kfir Ohana, 30, of Ofakim; Yaron Barami, 31, of Mabuim in the Merhavim Regional Council; and Efrat Cohen, 35, of Ra’anana were among the 36 prison service cadets on a bus that was engulfed by quickly spreading flames. The cadets had been sent to evacuate a prison before the fire spread to the facility. Forty-one passengers died when a fallen tree blocked the road and the conflagration reached the bus.
Friends and family members of the victims spent the past week attending funerals and sitting shiva for their loved ones. They recalled the good qualities of the dead and pledged to go on living without them, despite the challenges ahead.
“Kfir was a perfect man, a terrific father, and an extraordinary husband,” Olga Ohana told NJJN. “He never fought with anyone, he smiled all the time, he was full of joy, and he made everyone optimistic.
“It was a huge loss, and he cannot be replaced.”
Olga and Kfir intended to celebrate their three-year wedding anniversary on the day of the fire, and their daughter Noa’s second birthday this weekend. Olga is nine months pregnant with their son.
“He was so emotional about the birth coming up,” Olga said. “He already wanted to see his son. He won’t get to see him, but before he went, he fulfilled the mitzva of bringing a girl and a boy into the world.”
Rabbis told Olga not to name their son after Kfir, because it is considered bad luck to name a child after someone who dies young under tragic circumstances. Instead, when the boy has a brit mila, he will be given the name his father had chosen for him.
Olga said she was just starting to accept the reality of having to raise two children on her own. She expressed hope that both will receive all of Kfir’s good qualities.
“I will be strong for my children who he loved so much,” she said. “They will miss out on having a father figure, and I will have to fill that vacuum. I won’t let them miss out on anything, because I know Kfir wouldn’t let that happen. He expected me to be a strong woman and I have to do that for him. I know I will receive strength from him.”
Barami, like Ohana, left behind a two-year-old daughter named Noa and a pregnant wife. His Noa had a birthday last Saturday. His wife Einav is due in four months with their son, who Yaron told her he wanted to name Michael, after his grandfather.
“Yaron did everything quickly,” Einav’s aunt Hagit Levy said at his funeral. “He met Einav, got married, had his first child, bought a house. He wanted to accomplish as much as he could, because maybe he knew he was on borrowed time.”
In his eulogy for Barami, Merhavim Mayor Avner Mori, who personally knows the family, said he “died as a hero but way too young.”
Cohen got engaged just three weeks ago. She was planning a big wedding in six months after she completed the cadet course.
“Efrat always set goals and reached them no matter how difficult the challenges were along the way,” her sister Meirav Ofir said at the funeral.
Amir Shacham, who heads the Israel office of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, spoke this week with Mori, Ofakim Mayor Zvika Greengold, and Ra’anana Mayor Nahum Hofri and expressed condolences on behalf of UJC. He will also contact the families and ask what the people of MetroWest can do to assist them and memorialize their loved ones.
Shacham, who was in Haifa during the fire, said it was dramatic to see the forest in flames and the many planes at work to extinguish it. His wife, Vered, who works for the Welfare Ministry, helped evacuate the elderly from communities hit by the fire. Elad Riven, a 16-year-old volunteer fireman killed in the fire, was a family friend.
Olga Ohana said she was surprised that so many people came to Kfir’s funeral on Friday. She said the service was full of people and respectful, the way he would have liked it.
“God takes only angels,” Kfir’s father, Hananya, said at the funeral. “I had one angel and God took him from me.”
Kfir’s commander, Eli Gabison, said that Kfir had wanted to be a leader and an officer. He promised Olga, Hananya, Kfir’s mother Dina, and sister Ortal that he would do “everything possible to maintain his legacy.” Dina was active in the Ofakim Women’s Club that was initiated and is funded by UJC MetroWest.
“We have started thinking about how to memorialize him,” Olga said. “I want to put together a book or a movie and do something for the community. I don’t want people to forget him, and I don’t want anyone to forget him. I still feel that he is here with me, living on in my heart.”