While Some Assign Blame For Meron Tragedy, Others See A Deeper Message

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It has been a somber week for Israel, as Jews around the world attempt to process the horrific tragedy of those crushed to death during the Lag Ba’Omer celebrations in Meron. Newspapers have been filled with the details of the disaster, as well as the names of those who were lost. 


The race to identify who is at blame is a natural response. Many are angry, and others simply wish to make sure that such tragedies can be avoided in the future. Others have pointed out, however, the tremendous irony of the date & location of the catastrophe.


Lag Ba’Omer marks the end of a period of grief: One by one a disastrous plague wiped out the talmidim of Rabi Akiva, because they had not succeeded in respecting each other properly. This Lag Ba’Omer marked the first major gathering since the uplifting of the mask-wearing laws in Israel, as vaccination rates are now high, and COVID numbers remarkably low. It has been a devastating year for the Jewish community, not only of death & sickness, but of tremendous division. Blame, and an ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality permeated all spheres of the Jewish world. Relieved to be near the end of a traumatic year for all, tens of thousands of Jews gathered on Har Meron to sing, dance, and celebrate those themes which are more relevant than ever: Unity and health.


As we now know, of course, the celebrations were cut short by unthinkable tragedy. From the ashes of the tremendous grief, however, stories have continued to rise of the many acts of giving & togetherness which took place. One of the 45 victims, Rabbi Shimon Matlon, lost his life saving a child from the crush. Another man, Rabbi Yossi Shlessinger, sat atop a metal divider, pulling children up over the wall to bring them to their safety. Police officers, Hatzolah volunteers, and civilians dove into the crowd, pulling bodies out from underneath its lethal weight. Meanwhile the entire mountain was abuzz with fervent prayer to prevent further tragedy from taking place. Volunteers spent hours searching for missing children, reuniting families, and taking in shabbos guests who were stuck in the North due to heavy traffic. 


Hundreds of strangers gathered to escort the bodies of those who had flown in from abroad and had no family present, including that of victim Shraga Gestetner, 35-year old father of 5. Clinics collecting blood for the wounded attracted thousands of Israelis of all stripes, and secular TV hosts wept on the nightly news over the loss of young boys such as Moshe Levy (14), and Yedidya Hayut (13). 


Unfortunately, none of these acts of heroism or kindness will extinguish the insatiable flames of grief felt by the families who have lost their fathers and sons. And so, hundreds from around the world have united to contribute in a way that will have ripples on generations to come: Helping to support the families of the 45 victims whose lives have been devastated by this tragedy. A fund has been opened by charity organization Vaad HaRabbanim at MERONTRAGEDY.COM. Donations go toward helping the families of the victims survive, including support for the reported 42 children now sitting shiva.