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UPDATE: At least 44 Israelis reported dead and 150 wounded in likely stampede at mass Lag b’Omer holiday celebration

By BEN SALES

(JTA) — Over 44 Israelis were declared dead and 150 were wounded, six critically and 18 in serious condition, following a stampede and possible roof collapse at a mass haredi Orthodox celebration for the Jewish holiday of Lag b’Omer on Thursday night in the northern Israeli mountain village of Meron.

Israeli rescue forces and police near the scene where dozens of Israelis were injured during a Lag b’Omer celebration on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The gathering brought together more than 100,000 people, reportedly the largest in Israel since the onset of the COVID pandemic. 

It appears to be the worst civilian disaster in Israel’s history. Six Americans – three of them teenagers – have since been listed as victims.

A major cause of the staggering death toll and injuries appears to have been caused by revelers who slipped on stairs, which created a stampede in the crowd that trampled dozens of people. It occurred at the gathering spot of Toldos Aharon, a Jerusalem Hasidic movement.

According to some witnesses at the scene, a police barricade prevented people from exiting and contributed to the overcrowding at the scene. 

Magen David Adom ambulances responded to the scene and rescue helicopters were sent to the site in addition to a rescue unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a “terrible disaster,” according to reports.

The annual gathering involves music and bonfires, which are traditionally lit on Lag B’Omer, a festive holiday popular throughout the country. Meron is the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, an ancient sage who is associated with the holiday.

This story was updated to reflect the number of American casualties.

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