Day of National Mourning in Israel

On Sunday Israel was immersed in a national day of mourning for victims of the tragedy at Mount Meron on Thursday night in which at least 45 people died and more than 150 were injured.

Flags are being flown half-mast at public buildings, military bases and embassies around the world, as Israelis struggle to come to terms with the deadliest civilian disaster in the country`s history. The death toll of 45 has exceeded that of 44 which resulted from the forest fire on Mount Carmel in 2010.

Flags at half mast outside the Knesset buildingFlags flown at half-mast in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem.

The annual festival held on the Lag Ba`Omer holiday is usually a joyful celebration where tens of thousands visit the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. But on Friday Benjamin Netanyahu visited the site in northern Israel and declared Sunday as a national day of mourning because the celebration had turned into a disaster.

24-year old Moshe Bergman from Manchester’s Charedi community was one of the victims of the tragedy. He was studying at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem and his death was confirmed by community leaders after his family appealed for information of his whereabouts on Friday.

Calls for an official inquiry grew louder on Saturday as reports continued to emerge of multiple warnings over the years about dangers at the site. Israelis want answers about the responsibility of politicians and senior officials who allowed the event to take place.

The festival is thought to have drawn as many as 100,000 people – by far the largest gathering in Israel so far this year as the country emerges from coronavirus restrictions.

At least 10 children and teenagers were among the 45 people who died as a result of the crush at Mount Meron.

Times of Israel staff have recalled another tragedy at the site, back in 1911, when the region was still under Ottoman rule. Around 100 people fell from a balcony when the railing around it collapsed, leaving 11 dead and 40 injured.

This year Lag B’Omer was special not just because Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died on that day back in the Second Century, but also because the date coincides with the end of a plague some 2,000 years ago, which saw the deaths of thousands of followers of another well-known rabbi.

Given Israel’s recent emergence from the coronavirus restrictions, that second link to the date took on greater significance in 2021.