A stampede at a mountainside religious celebration in Israel where about 100,000 people ultra-Orthodox Jews were crammed together late Thursday to celebrate a holiday has left dozens dead and more injured, including children. People gathered together despite warnings from the authorities about the risk of Covid-19 transmission. The newspapers Haaretz and The Times of Israel were reporting that at least 44 people had been killed. A video before showed a mass of people in ecstatic celebration, moving almost as one to the music. Some said people started fleeing after either a grandstand or a roof collapsed. “A terrible disaster,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared. Helicopters evacuated the injured. The police shut down the celebration and ordered that the revelers be evacuated by bus.
The holiday, Lag b’Omer, includeS dancing and bonfires when ultra-Orthodox Jews traditionally convene at the tomb of a prominent rabbi from antiquity. According to kabbalistic tradition, this day marks the hillula (celebration, interpreted by some as anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, “the Rashbi”, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of kabbalah in the form of the Zohar. The annual gathering on Mount Meron, which is in the Galilee, takes place near the mystical center of Safed. Large numbers of ultra-Orthodox and traditional Jews make the pilgrimage to the mountain for days of festivities. The gathering at Mount Meron on Thursday was described as the largest in Israel since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this month, Israel lifted its outdoor mask mandate and fully reopened schools for the first time since September.