During a religious festival yesterday on Mount Meron in northern Israel, a stampede killed at least 45 people. Approximately 100,000 people were visiting the mountain to celebrate the holiday of Lag b'Omer. From the New York Times:
The annual gathering on Mount Meron, which is near the Sea of Galilee, takes place near the mystical city of Safed. The holiday, Lag b'Omer, is linked in Jewish tradition to the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans in the first century A.D. and for many ultra-Orthodox Jews, it is a highlight of the Hebrew calendar.
But the celebrations were very curtailed last year because of the pandemic with few people allowed to attend.
Large numbers of ultra-Orthodox and traditional Jews make the pilgrimage to the mountain for days of festivities. They light bonfires around the grave site of a second-century sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in the hope that they will receive his blessings on the anniversary of his death.
There were warnings that the infrastructure could not safely bear large crowds. However, critics say some officials may have been deterred from restricting access to the site in part because of the political power the ultra-Orthodox parties have held in successive Netanyahu-led governing coalitions.
image: Tomb of Shimon bar Yochai during a prior Lag b'Omer celebration, crop of photo by Jonathan Stein (public domain)