Admission tickets among changes for Lag B’Omer at Mt. Meron, a year after disaster

Worshipers at annual festival will be transported from nearby parking lot on shuttles, given limited time at holy site, and only one bonfire will be allowed

File: Ultra-Orthodox men take part in celebrations of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, May 17, 2014 (Flash90)
File: Ultra-Orthodox men take part in celebrations of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, May 17, 2014 (Flash90)

A year after a stampede at northern Israel’s Mount Meron killed 45 people, authorities on Monday detailed a list of changes made for this year’s Lag B’Omer festivities at the hilltop and its holy site.

Authorities are gearing up for hundreds of thousands to flock back to Mount Meron, home to the mountaintop gravesite of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, next month for an annual all-night pilgrimage marking his death.

Rather than open admission to the site, as in years past, entry will now be conditioned on purchasing a bus ticket. Private vehicles will not be allowed onto the mountain, and instead one must also purchase a seat on a shuttle, which will take worshipers to the site from a parking lot.

The ticket will allow an individual to remain on the hilltop for a pre-determined amount of time. It was also not immediately clear how authorities will enforce the ticket’s time limit, or how long it will last.

There will be only one central bonfire during the festivities, instead of several like in previous years.

Vendor stalls will not be allowed on the hilltop itself. Food will be distributed at the entrance to a nearby town and at a parking lot, and drinks will be distributed near the bonfire area.

The changes were presented by Brigadier-General (Res.) Tzviki Tessler, a supervisor appointed by the Religious Services Ministry for this year’s festival, during a Monday press conference.

Tzviki Tessler, Project Director for the Lag B’Omer festival at Mount Meron, tours the site in northern Israel, April 25, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)

This years’ Lag B’Omer holiday starts on the night of May 18.

During Lag B’Omer festivities at Mount Meron in April 2021, 45 people died in a crush that was the worst civilian disaster in Israeli history.

The tragedy occurred on April 30, as thousands celebrating streamed down a narrow walkway. Some people fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.

The deadly stampede has been blamed on improperly installed ramparts and walkways, as well as a failure to limit numbers at the site.

Different areas of the sprawling Mount Meron complex were administered by different ultra-Orthodox groups, making regulation and organization difficult.

Victims of the April 30, 2021, Mount Meron disaster: Top row (L-R): Chen Doron, Haim Rock, Ariel Tzadik, Yossi Kohn, Yisrael Anakvah, Yishai Mualem, Yosef Mastorov, Elkana Shiloh and Moshe Levy; 2nd row (L-R): Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz, Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, Mordechai Fakata, Dubi Steinmetz, Abraham Daniel Ambon, Eliezer Gafner, Yosef Greenbaum, Yehuda Leib Rubin and Yaakov Elchanan Starkovsky; 3rd row (L-R): Haim Seler, Yehoshua Englard, Moshe Natan Neta Englard, Yedidia Hayut, Moshe Ben Shalom, David Krauss, Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, Yosef Yehuda Levy and Yosef Amram Tauber; 4th row (L-R): Menachem Knoblowitz, Elazar Yitzchok Koltai, Yosef David Elhadad, Shraga Gestetner, Yonatan Hebroni, Shimon Matalon, Elazar Mordechai Goldberg, Moshe Bergman and Daniel Morris; 5th row (L-R): Ariel Achdut, Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, Hanoch Slod, Yedidya Fogel, Menahem Zakbah, Simcha Diskind, Moshe Tzarfati, Nahman Kirshbaum and Eliyahu Cohen.

A state commission of inquiry into the incident is ongoing, though it was slowed following the death of Miriam Naor, the head of the investigation, in January.

That same month, government ministers said they had agreed to grant NIS 500,000 ($160,000) in “initial aid” to each of the families of the 45 victims.

Israeli authorities have divided or limited attendance at other large religious events since the tragedy, including this month at the Passover priestly blessing ceremony at the Western Wall, and the Christian Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Holy Fire restrictions sparked outrage and charges of discrimination against Israeli police.

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