Sunday, May 9th 2021   |

OP-ED: Tragedy in the midst of joy

By ALAN SMASON

While all the details regarding the Lag B’Omer tragedy at Meron in Israel have yet to be revealed, the grievous task of mourning the victims and making final preparations began even before the onset of Shabbat.

Orthodox Jews clash with a police officer after 45 pilgrims were killed in a crush at a religious festival in Mount Meron on April 30, 2021 in Meron, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

This has been the worst civilian disaster in Israel’s history and with a population base of slightly over 9 million residents, 45 dead would be akin to over 1600 dead here in the United States. Given those numbers, we all might better understand the scale of this disaster.

Fingers have already been pointed by witnesses that police barricades may have prevented pilgrims from exiting in an orderly fashion and might have contributed to overcrowding at Meron. Investigators will sort out these details in the coming weeks and months, but the greatest task ahead will be to ensure this kind of tragedy does not happen again.

Similar kinds of stampedes at religious events have affected other world religions. The most recent is the 2015 disaster at Mina, where 2400 pilgrims headed to nearby Mecca were trampled to death in the space of 10 minutes.

Tonight, as we revel from the fresh success of last week’s GatesFest, we look forward to the launch of the Touro Synagogue “Celebrate! 30 Years of Shabbat Joy” recording project and fundraiser. While our hearts should be full of joy, we also have sorrow for our Israeli brothers and sisters who are in the midst of suffering inestimable loss.

There is an additional irony that does not escape us. 

Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, is recalled for the fact that nothing bad happened to the Jewish people on that date during this period between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. 

As we prepare to welcome the Shabbat bride, we should be celebrating our joy. But, because of what happened yesterday – on another day of “joy” – we also stand in solidarity with our Israeli brothers and sisters,  mourning our dead and attending to our injured. Time will tell as to whether we will look on Lag B’Omer as another day to be solemnized by Jews in future years.

Baruch dayan emet. “Blessed is the true judge.”

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