“Dozens of dead” on Jewish pilgrimage to Israel

A giant stampede on a Jewish pilgrimage bringing together thousands of people in northern Israel left behind “Dozens of deaths”, Friday, April 30, announced the rescuers in a new report.

Magen David Adom – the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross – had earlier mentioned at least 20 injured in critical condition, before reviewing this toll upwards to “Dozens of deaths” and dozens of seriously injured.

A giant “scramble”

In the middle of the night, the flashing lights of dozens of ambulances sparkle on the fringes near Mont Méron, the scene of the tragedy. The rescuers had initially mentioned the collapse of stands to explain these injuries, before then evoking a “Jostling” giant.

Tens of thousands of people took part on the night of Thursday to Friday in an annual pilgrimage to northern Israel for the largest public event in the country since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pilgrimage, which takes place on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer, is held in Meron, around the alleged tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochaï, a Talmudist of the IIe century of the Christian era to which we attribute the writing of the Zohar, central work of Jewish mysticism.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbi lights a bonfire at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Mount Meron, northern Israel, April 29.

Lag Baomer is a joyous holiday marking the memory of the end of a devastating epidemic among the students of a Talmudic school at that time. The authorities had allowed the presence of 10,000 people in the enclosure of the tomb but, according to the organizers, more than 650 buses were chartered in all the country, that is to say at least 30,000 people, while the local press reported 100 000 people on site.

Evacuation of the wounded

But after midnight, emergency calls for rescuers multiplied, and six helicopters were deployed to evacuate the wounded to hospitals in Safed and Nahariya, two towns in the north of the country. Contacted by Agence France-Presse, the Israeli army confirmed having deployed helicopters to rescue the victims.

The Israeli media quickly circulated the image of a dozen inert bodies lined up in plastic bags, surrounded by rescuers on a tarmac track. Monster traffic jams on the roads leading to the north of the country were reported by the police who had deployed 5,000 agents to ensure the safety of this event.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered around a bonfire at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Mount Meron, northern Israel on April 29.

Magen David Adom had earlier reported cases of people fainting from the heat and others lightly burned by ritually lit campfires each year.

In 2019, a year before the pandemic which forced the cancellation of the pilgrimage in 2020, the organizers estimated that 250,000 pilgrims had visited the site.

The World with AFP