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Victim's brother decries 'spit in face' of bereaved families

Group that oversaw last year’s Meron festival, where 45 died, tapped to run it again

Religious Services Ministry streamlines application for National Center for the Development of Holy Sites, despite Israel’s worst-ever civilian disaster under its watch

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.
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.

The group that oversaw the Lag B’Omer festival at Mount Meron last year that saw 45 people die in a crush, the worst civilian disaster in Israeli history, has been chosen again to supervise the event.

The Religious Services Ministry selected the National Center for the Development of Holy Sites to oversee the holiday events in northern Israel.

The ministry also allowed the organization to skip the tender process and accepted its bid directly, citing “economy and efficiency.”

Israel Diskind, the brother of the late Simcha Bunim, who was killed in the disaster, called the decision “a spit in the face of the families of those killed, a scandalous decision that ensures the next disaster is not prevented.”

The April 2021 tragedy at the religious site in northern Israel came after repeated warnings that it was unsafe for such large crowds to attend the celebrations.

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, last month.

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

In January, government ministers said they had agreed to grant NIS 500,000 ($160,000) in “initial aid” to each of the families of the 45 people killed in the disaster.

The proposal to grant aid to each of the victims’ families still requires government approval.

Former chief of the Supreme Court Miriam Naor (center) heads the Meron Disaster Inquiry Committee in Jerusalem, on August 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The pain cannot be eliminated, but we will do everything in our capabilities to provide the maximum response for the families and we will take all precautions to prevent the next disaster,” Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said in a joint statement at the time.

The tragedy occurred on April 30, as thousands celebrating Lag B’Omer festivities at the gravesite of the second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai streamed through 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.

Around 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended events at Mount Meron during the holiday celebrations.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews light candles for the 45 victims who were killed in a crush at Mt. Meron, on May 6, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The deadly crush 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 site were administered by different ultra-Orthodox groups, making regulation and organization difficult.

The response to the disaster has been marred by political disputes and recriminations. The former coalition resisted forming a state commission of inquiry into the affair, but the current government did so.

There is no known deadline for the government’s inquiry findings to be finalized, although interim findings were published in November.

A senior police officer testified earlier this month that Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai had dismissed his concerns of overcrowding at the site ahead of the disaster.

In October, a retired police commander pointed to alleged major missteps by Shabtai that led to the deadly crush.

A month earlier, Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash told the commission that no government body had been willing to accept responsibility for ensuring COVID-19 policies were upheld during the annual event.

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