Photo Credit: David Cohen/Flash90
Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the mass fatality on Mt. Meron, April 30, 2021.

On April 30, 2021, at about 12:50 AM, a deadly crowd crush took place on Mt. Meron in northern Israel during the Lag B’Omer festivities, where an estimated 100,000 people were crammed together. Forty-five men and boys were killed, and about 150 injured, dozens of them critically. It was the deadliest civil disaster in Israeli history. On Nov. 22, the State Commission that investigated the Meron disaster submitted its interim report alongside its recommendations.

Among other things, the committee members, led by (retired) Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, recommended that a minister be appointed to run the Lag B’Omer event, and immediate action be taken to prevent overcrowding. Also, action must be taken to remove unauthorized groups from the mountain top.

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“Considering the multiplicity of factors involved in it and the characteristics and complexity of the event, we recommend that the Israeli government appoint one of the government ministers to be responsible for the upcoming celebration event. We recommend that the responsible minister appoint an executive with appropriate knowledge and experience who will organize and conduct the revelry under his direction and subject to his instructions,” the committee recommended.

The committee also discussed improving infrastructure and removing safety hazards in the revelry area on Mount Meron. “We have learned from reports and opinions of safety experts about the existence of many dangerous facilities and safety hazards in the mountain area,” it reported. “As far as we know, since the disaster, steps have been taken to remove some of the safety hazards and to improve the infrastructure, but the work has not been completed.”

The committee members concluded that “one of the main challenges during the celebration is congestion and crowding. Steps must be taken to ensure that there is no excessive density in the mountain area and at key points of interest there.”

“To ensure that there is no excessive crowd density at the revelry, the space available on the mountain for the use of the crowd must be increased first and foremost,” the committee recommended, which would require “evicting anyone who holds areas of the mountain without a legal right. We will not mention individual cases as we are not a court and those concerned have not made any claims before us. Therefore, we will suggest a general recommendation to take all the necessary legal measures to evacuate anyone who holds land on the mountain illegally, and to do so as soon as possible, so that the areas will be available for use by the public as early as Lag B’Omer 5782 (that’s the spring of 2022 – DI).”

“In addition, we recommend not to allow tents, structures, and sleep accommodation on the mountain during the upcoming festivities, and not allocating areas to a ‘families’ compound.’ The mountain area is limited and handing over parts of it to temporary residences reduces the area available to the entire public, and as a result, contributes to overcrowding,” the committee members wrote.

“Apart from maximizing the available mountain area for the public to use in the celebration, we recommend taking steps to regulate the arrival of celebrants, so that at any given time they do not exceed the number of participants the mountain area can safely accommodate. To this end, we recommend setting a maximum ‘target number’ that meets the safety requirements and regulating the arrival at the mountain according to the target number to be determined. The regulation will be carried out through the control of commutes,” the committee wrote.

Finally, the members of the committee recommended “that in the year 5782 only one central bonfire be lit during the celebration, on the roof of the gravesite (of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), by the Rebbe of Boyan. We also recommend that the lighting ceremony be short, as was customary in the past.”

The Boyan dynasty purchased the right to light the central bonfire in Meron on Lag B’Omer in the late 19th century.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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