Pilgrims return to Mount Meron for the first time since the Lag B’Omer disaster
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Pilgrims return to Mount Meron for the first time since the Lag B’Omer disaster

A Hebrew calendar year after last April's horrific stampede that killed 45 men and boys, the celebrations pass peacefully

Michael Daventry is Jewish News’s foreign and broadcast editor

As Israel’s biggest mass gathering since the pandemic, it was meant to be a celebration. But it will forever be remembered as the worst civilian disaster in the country’s history.

A year has passed under the Hebrew calendar since 45 men and boys were crushed to death last April on Mount Meron.

Hundreds of others were badly hurt when the crowds funnelled through a narrow passageway down from the holy site.

The horrifying spectacle was captured on shaky mobile phone footage.

It was Lag B’Omer and all of the victims were strictly-Orthodox Jews marking the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the second-century sage whose tomb is visited by hundreds of thousands each year.

Experts had been warning for years that the event, where huge crowds sing and dance as bonfires are lit, was a safety risk because of inadequate crowd control.

This year, thousands of strictly-Orthodox pilgrims came once again to mark Lag B’Omer at Mount Meron and the pressing question was whether the lessons have been learned.

The short answer is yes, because so much had been changed.

For one, the event was much smaller: only 16,000 pilgrims were allowed in the tomb area at a time.

Visitors were set to be turned away if they arrived by car or on foot, with only official buses allowed into the compound.

There has also been substantial building work to improve staircases and passageways.

But although officials said most Charedim were cooperating, albeit with some grumbling at the restrictions, a vocal minority was opposed.

Among them was the anti-Zionist Toldos Aharon group, whose leader Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Kohn says the authorities have “no right” to limit access to Mount Meron and has encouraged civil disobedience.

And on Tuesday, police arrested several men and women allegedly plotting to sabotage security and electrical systems on the site with wirecutters, crowbars and spray paint.

Changing decades-old habits in a single year was never going to be straightforward.

But on Thursday morning United Hatzalah said it had only treated 47 people for emergency medical care this year, mostly for minor injuries such as bruises, minor burns and respiratory problems.

It is welcome news for everyone.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments