Reb Yoel Schlesinger, a resident of Beitar Illit, has emerged as one of the heroes of the Meron disaster, extricating a three-year-old from the “walkway of death” and saving many lives by distributing water and warning people to turn back. His brave acts were first exposed by Chareidi journalist Ariel Elharar and quickly went viral.
Schlesinger has volunteered for the Hachnasas Orchim at Har Meron for years, distributing food and drink to visitors on Lag B’Omer. In an interview on Kan News, Schlesinger recounts how he was distributing food and drink when he took a break in the Hachnasas Orchim room to daven. He suddenly heard screams: “something I am not used to hearing, something that no one in the world is used to hearing, screams like from the gas chambers. I’m not exaggerating, that’s what it was like.”
Running to the Hachnasas Orchim room’s window in the wall of the walkway, he could see the people trapped below. On the left, people were trapped with nowhere to go and from the right hundreds more were crowded in the walkway. He saw a man fall and struggle unsuccessfully to get up, even when others tried to help him.
Schlesinger tried to yell to those further up to stop but his voice was drowned out by the crowd and the music. He also tried yelling to the police, who also couldn’t hear him. Hearing people calling out for water, he ran to bring boxes of water bottles from the Hachnasas Orchim refrigerator and threw them from the window to the trapped people below.
He then saw a father with his young son sitting on his shoulders. He told Yisrael Hayom: “He asked me to save his son. I locked my leg on the window sill with my knee and I leaned my body down into the walkway and grabbed the boy and threw myself back on the window sill. That’s how I saved him.”
“He was crying and I said. “It’s good he’s crying, he’s alive.’ Another minute and he would have died.”
Schlesinger then turned his attention back to the people further up on the walkway, who were still unaware of what was happening below. With the deafening music still playing, he opened a bottle of water and sprinkled the contents on the people in the crowd to draw their attention, yelling at them to turn back.
His efforts were successful and the people in the crowd began to turn back up the walkway, aided by other people. Additionally, a police officer finally managed to open the door to a side room, relieving some of the crushing pressure.
“Some of the people who heard me scream called me a day or two later, saying that because of me they turned back and were saved,” he said.
Schlesinger added that the tragedy could have been far far worse. “It could have been much much worse, with 200 or 300 people killed. It was in the zechus of all the people who helped that it ended as it did.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)