Voice of the Jewish News: Horror in Meron was entirely self-inflicted
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Voice of the Jewish News: Horror in Meron was entirely self-inflicted

The dead and injured were guided by elders who either chose to forget about safety or let zealous devotion cloud simple common sense.

Personal belongings of Orthodox Jews can be seen on Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, April 30, 2021. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun
Personal belongings of Orthodox Jews can be seen on Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, April 30, 2021. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

Watching terrible events occur in Israel from the safety of one’s living room is something we’ve all experienced – just how often is relative to one’s age.

Usually such events are the result of conflict, of Israel fighting for its very existence. Last week’s tragedy in Meron, however, was entirely self-inflicted. 

What could be more terrible, more terrifying, than being crushed by a crowd in a confined space? For a child it is unimaginable. 

Many readers will vividly recall the panic and horror at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 when 96 people suffocated to death in an overcrowded football stand. That memory flooded back as we watched the footage of Mount Meron.

How could any adult attending the pilgrimage – which was cancelled last year due to Covid – believe that gathering in such numbers was the right thing to do? Worse still, to bring small, vulnerable children into such a space.

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Regardless of Israel’s lead in the vaccine – and a double jab was, we are led to believe, required for entry – to be in such close proximity to so many in a  cramped mountain-side plaza was an act of sheer stupidity. 

It’s not as if this is the first catastrophic crush at Mt Meron, as the site, revered for being the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, still echoes with the death of  11 people killed in a crowd of 10,000 in 1911 when a balcony railing collapsed.

Last week’s crowd, many of them students, were too young to know about this and were guided by elders who either chose to forget or let zealous devotion cloud simple common sense.

Prayers for help were answered for some and delivered in the form of the emergency services. That others then allegedly chose to reject – or, worse still, lash out at – female police offering help reveals the ever-present vitriolic  divide between the secular and religious community. But at what cost?

Blame was this week thrown in all directions: at the police, who from a distance appeared to be doing their best; and from anonymous sources at various government departments who did not implement a plan to restrict the numbers. But would the Charedi community have obeyed such restrictions if they had implemented a plan?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the site on Friday (Photo: Twitter)

A restricted area that was set up in one section was flooded by 20,000 people. So did the bottleneck this created lead to the crush? The alarm about safety issues at the site has been been sounded but for years has been falling on deaf ears.

But who is refusing to listen? More significantly do many of those who flooded into Meron have the remotest interest in rulings created by ‘the Zionists’ whom  they talk about so disparagingly? After all, in their minds Israel’s legitimacy  hangs entirely on the Messiah’s arrival. So they wait like characters in a  Samuel Beckett drama.

That the loss of every Jewish life is a tragedy and hurts deeply is irrefutable. We in the diaspora cry when bad things happen in Israel because the country means so much to us. When the loss of Jewish life is caused by recklessness  and negligence, rather than some tragic necessity, the loss is even harder to  face and impossible to fathom.

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