search

In U-turn, police to allow religious festival despite Omicron, deadly Meron disaster

Thousands expected to attend Baba Sali memorial in Netivot next week, months after crush that killed 45 people and as highly contagious COVID variant rages

Jewish worshippers pray at the gravesite of the Baba Sali during the annual pilgrimage held in his memory in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on January 30, 2017. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)
Jewish worshippers pray at the gravesite of the Baba Sali during the annual pilgrimage held in his memory in the southern Israeli town of Netivot on January 30, 2017. (Yaakov Cohen/Flash90)

Police said Thursday they would allow thousands of people to participate in an annual religious celebration despite fears of mass infections amid rising coronavirus cases, and safety concerns, months after a deadly disaster at another festival.

The announcement reversed a police injunction issued the previous day, which had prohibited the annual mass memorial gathering at the grave of a revered kabbalist in the southern town of Netivot.

The injunction said police would not be able to ensure safety protocols at the memorial event for Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, known as Baba Sali, which traditionally attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims.

But after senior officers, Netivot Mayor Yechiel Zohar, and representatives of the festival’s organizers surveyed the site, the sides agreed to hold the event as planned, subject to compliance with safety requirements, police said.

Police said in a statement that the participants would not be permitted to enter the gravesite itself but only the area surrounding the compound.

The event is subject to the Health Ministry’s COVID-19 guidelines, which currently do not limit outdoor gatherings.

Religious Jewish men pray at a memorial celebration in honor of Baba Sali, marking 34 years since his death, at his tomb complex in the city of Netivot on January 10, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Baba Sali was considered a man of miracles by many Jews around the world. His followers include a wide range of Jews from all sorts of religious backgrounds, and his grave is one of Israel’s most visited Jewish holy sites.

The memorial gathering is slated to take place next Thursday.

It was not clear why the event had been allowed to go forward until this year, but police appeared to be putting greater emphasis on safety protocols following the tragedy at Mount Meron in May, when 45 people were crushed to death during the annual Lag B’Omer gathering.

Nearly 4,000 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Wednesday as Israel’s surge in infections driven by the Omicron variant continued at full force.

Alongside the rising morbidity figures, there was an increase in serious cases from 84 on Wednesday morning to 94 on Thursday morning. Of those patients, 46 were defined as critical. The majority of seriously ill patients are unvaccinated.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed