On April 23rd, at least 45 people were killed, and approximately 150 others were treated for injuries after a stampede crushed them at a religious festival in Israel. Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered in celebration at one of the most significant events in the country.
לכבוד התנא: עשרות אלפים בהדלקה המרכזית של תולדות אהרן שמרעידה את הההר מצד לצד pic.twitter.com/b2pMQsXv1z
— משה ויסברג (@moshe_nayes) April 29, 2021
Officials estimate about 100,000 people attended this year. Up to 400,000 Orthodox Jews make an annual pilgrimage to Meron — from all over the world — for the religious holiday of Lag B’Omer. The town of Meron is where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s tomb rests.
Shimon Bar Yochai is a highly exalted, second-century philosopher who commanded the anniversary of his death to be honored with a celebration of his life. Legend says that Shimon studied the Torah for thirteen years as he hid in a cave, where he was inspired to write “The Zohar,” which is the foundation of Jewish mysticism. The event involves all-night singing, prayer, dancing, and bonfires.
Vice president of emergency-based United Hatzalah, Dov Maisel, described the scene to CNN. He said hundreds of people were converging there simultaneously from all different directions, which led to a “massive amount of congestion.” As people were packed tightly in a passageway leading up a slippery incline, some fell and were crushed by the ensuing stampede.
One of the attendees, Zohar, was nearby the area where people were crushed. He explained to Israel’s Channel 12 News how people were walking through the passageway, but then the crowd came to a stop.
Zohar described victims’ faces becoming increasingly pale. "Then, bodies began falling at my feet. I tried to call for help, and slowly rescue forces arrived. There were some people who [rescuers] did not even try to revive. People were lying on my feet, shouting 'Help me.'"
One of the injured attendees explained that the crush was set into motion when a line of people in the front of the intensely packed area just collapsed. "A pyramid of one on top of another was formed. People were piling up one on top of the other. I was in the second row. The people in the first row - I saw people die in front of my eyes," said the injured man to reporters.
Channel 12 News spoke with a Zaka emergency rescue officer at the on-site field hospital. He described the scene as chaos, noting that children were separated from their parents.
The Zaka emergency rescue officer attempted to gather all the separated children at the facility to reconnect them with their parents. “We are trying to locate people who are believed to be missing… to organize a register of names,” said the rescue officer.
He said that cellphones stopped working in the area, making the situation all the more chaotic.
“There are more than 30 children here right now… whose mothers and fathers aren’t answering the phone.”
President Biden offered his condolences to Israel. "The loss of life among worshipers practicing their faith is heartbreaking," stated Biden. "I have instructed my team to offer our assistance to the government and people of Israel as they respond to the disaster and care for the wounded."