(JTA) — At least 45 people were crushed to death and at least 150 wounded in a stampede during a celebration for the Jewish holiday of Lag b’Omer on Thursday night in the northern Israeli village of Meron.
Meron is home to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, an ancient sage associated with the holiday and a pilgrimage site for haredi Orthodox Jews during the holiday. More than 100,000 people were reportedly gathered there, in the largest gathering in Israel since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The stampede appears to be the worst civil disaster in Israel’s history, with a death toll at least as high as that of the devastating 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire. Many of the wounded are in critical condition and children are among the victims, according to Israeli media reports.
Among the victims identified by authorities on Friday was Shragee Gestetner, a popular Hasidic singer. Social media posts identified yeshiva students from Israel and the United States as among the missing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking in a video taken in Meron, announced a national day of mourning on Sunday. He said a “thorough, serious and in-depth investigation” would take place.
Overnight, video emerged showing the disaster unfold. One video shows men tightly packed into a narrow ramp, then begin to press against each other from the top. Another shows people tearing down a barrier, apparently to relieve crowding, followed by frenzied running.
Israeli ambulances and rescue helicopters flocked to the site, in addition to a rescue unit of the Israel Defense Forces. Victims were taken to multiple hospitals in the region.
The annual gathering involves music and bonfires, which are traditionally lit on Lag b’Omer, a festive holiday popular throughout the country. The stampede reportedly took place at the gathering spot of Toldos Aharon, a Jerusalem Hasidic movement.
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