(Flash90/David Cohen)
Lag B'Omer disaster

Celebration turns into tragedy as 44 dead, over 100 injured during annual pilgrimage to revered rabbi’s grave.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

At least 44 people died and over one hundred were injured, many of the critically, when people were crushed at the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage in northern Israel.

The largest mass event in Israel since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic suddenly turned into one of the country’s greatest disasters. An estimated 100,000-200,000 people were crowded at Mt. Meron in the northern Galilee area when some may have slipped backwards, starting a domino effect and causing people to flee in panic.

“Magen David Adom EMTs and paramedics are treating 103 injured of which 38 in critical condition in the field, 6 in critical condition who were evacuated to the hospitals, 18 in serious condition, 2 in moderate condition and 39 in mild condition,” said Nadav Matzner, a spokesman for the national emergency ambulance service.

The IDF said it brought in Israel Air Force helicopters and its air rescue unit to evacuate the wounded to hospitals around the country, with soldiers from the Homefront Command and medical teams from the north of the country responding to the scene.

“I was on duty when I saw dozens of people fall on top of one another during the collapse,” said Yehuda Gottleib, a volunteer EMT with the United Hatzalah rescue organization, who was one of the first responders at the scene. “A large number of them were crushed and lost consciousness.

“I immediately requested backup from the on-site dispatchers and told them to send as many additional volunteers and medical personnel as they could to the scene and that we had dozens of injuries,” Gottleib said.

“This is one of the worst tragedies that I have ever experienced. I have not seen anything like this since I entered into the field of emergency medicine back in 2000,” said United Hatzalah vice president Lazar Hyman.

A United Hatzalah official said dozens of medical teams performed CPR on the victims who were crushed, while others treated more than 100 people who were injured with varying degrees of severity.

Due to the nature of the incident, members of the Pychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit were dispatched as well in order to deal with those who are suffering from shock and emotional stress reactions, the rescue organization said.

“A heavy disaster on Mount Meron. We all pray for the recovery of the injured,” tweeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The Ministry of Health and I have been following the terrible Meron disaster since nightfall,” tweeted Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. “Hospitals and rescue organizations are doing sacred work to care for the injured. Our hearts go out to the families of those killed in this difficult time.”

The crowds of mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews were making the annual pilgrimage to Israel’s Mount Meron to be near the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

According to tradition, Bar Yochai’s death occurred on Lag B’Omer, translated as “the 33rd day of the Omer,” which, according to the Hebrew calendar, is on the 18th day of Iyar. The Omer comprises a period of seven complete weeks starting from the second night of Passover and ending at the Jewish Festival of Weeks, known as Shavuot.

Many mark Lag B’Omer by visiting Bar Yochai’s gravesite as well as by kindling bonfires that symbolize the spiritual light brought into the world by the sage through his prominent Kabbalistic work known as the Zohar, eventually compiled in Spain some 1000 years later.

In Washington, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan sent the first American response.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Israel tonight following the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron. We offer our condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones in this disaster, and wish a full and swift recovery to those injured,” Sullivan tweeted.