Jerusalem – At the time of the horrific collision that claimed the lives of seven in Kiryat Gat, relatives of both the Bernstein and Gottstein families were attending a family wedding in Meah Shearim. Among the wedding guests were Dovid Gottstein’s brothers who were convinced that he, too, was among the dead when the minivan the family was riding in was hit by a train.
“There was much confusion. No one knew who died and who was alive,” the Gottstein brothers told Ynet News. “They told us that the worst possible thing had happened. After two hours, we finally learned that Dovid was in Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. We accepted the news with both great happiness and tremendous sadness. During those two hours, our hearts stopped completely. We were filled with joy when we heard that Dovid was still alive, but devastated to hear that his wife Malka and his son, Mordechai Aaron, were killed. Meanwhile, Dovid still doesn’t know that his wife and his son are dead.”
The seven dead are listed as Malka Gottstein, pregnant with her second child and age 21, Mordechai Aaron Gottstein, one and a half years old, Aryeh Bernstein, age 43, his wife Rivka, age 41 and three Bernstein children: Yochanan, age 16, Chana age 14 and Mordechai Aaron Bernstein, age 9. Dovid Gottstein, two people with moderate injuries and six more victims with mild injuries were transported to hospitals in Beer Sheva and Ashkelon. Others who had less serious injuries were treated at the crash site. The minibus, which burst into flames on impact, was completely destroyed and the driver was taken to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva, with a police guard stationed at his door.
Dovid Gottstein’s spoke with his brother from the hospital, telling him that he has almost no recollection of the accident, except that he remembers sitting next to the driver. “This is difficult news,” said the Gottstein brothers. We can’t describe how it feels. It is good news, but mixed with great sadness.”
Another relative told Ynet News, “When the news came in, the wedding continued normally, but as news of the tragedy spread, they took the immediate family members in the middle of the wedding and informed them of the bitter news. It is something that is impossible to comprehend. But everything is in the hands of Hashem.”
Dovid Gottstein’s mother fainted when she heard the news, thinking her son was among the dead.
“It is such a difficult time for both families,” said the relative. “It is an experience that is incomparable to anything else. It is as if my whole world has been destroyed. An entire family, wiped out in just one minute. At least one son was spared, which is some small consolation, amidst such terrible sadness.”
Gottstein’s aunt added, “We are all completely in a state of shock. The news that Dovid is still alive is such a relief, but the idea that all the others were killed is difficult to bear and a monumental tragedy.”
Gottstein, who is in Barzilai Hospital, will likely need surgery to correct his injuries. His friends told Ynet News that he told them he saw that the train was coming and got up quickly from his seat to warn the driver of the oncoming train, a move that probably saved his life.
Meanwhile Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Itzhak Harel, Chief Executive of Israel Railways, told reporters that the train was traveling at approximately 81 miles per hour at the time of the collision. The train engineer, Giora Weiss told Haaretz, “the driver of the minibus was talking to the passenger and wasn’t paying attention to the lookout point.” Weiss said he tried to stop the train when he saw the minivan but was unable to stop in time. According to Isreali news reports, the driver admitted that he didn’t notice the checkpoint and was unable to stop his vehicle in time to avoid a collision.
Back in Beitar Ilit, the entire city is in mourning and Mayor Meir Rubenstein cut his vacation short to return home. Funds are already being established to care for the families of the victims. Israeli News Service Kikar HaShabat reports that the accident is being called the biggest tragedy in the history of Beitar Ilit. In the words of one resident, “there are simply no words to describe the loss that occurred here.”
The funeral for the seven victims will take place tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM from the Karlin Stolin shul on Rechov Avinoam Yellin in Meah Shearim.