Scalpers offer fake Meron festival tickets, subverting new safety measures – report

Ticket sellers say they can provide passes for Lag B’Omer event even if site is full; claim to also have tickets circumventing time limits imposed in wake of 2021’s deadly crush

Police officers guard ahead of the Lag B'omer festival, at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, in Meron, northern Israel on May 15, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Police officers guard ahead of the Lag B'omer festival, at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, in Meron, northern Israel on May 15, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Ticket scalpers are offering forged passes to this year’s Lag B’Omer festival at Mount Meron to bypass strict attendance limits being imposed after 45 people were killed in a crush at the site last year, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday.

The Jewish festival of Lag B’Omer begins on Wednesday night. Hundreds of thousands of revelers typically visit Mount Meron, home to the mountaintop gravesite of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, for an annual daylong pilgrimage marking his death.

After the disaster at the site last year, no more than 16,000 people at a time will be allowed in and around the tomb complex on Wednesday-Thursday, according to regulations drafted by the Justice Ministry, the Religious Affairs Ministry and the police.

Instead of there being open access to the site as in years past, entry will now be conditioned on pre-purchasing a ticket and visitors will only be permitted to stay for four hours.

The arrangements, approved last week by the Knesset Public Security Committee, have sparked a forged ticket industry in which fake passes can be purchased for hundreds of shekels, Kan said.

One ticket scalper told reporters posing as interested pilgrims, “If there are no longer any places, I can do it, but it will simply be more expensive for you.”

Police officers guard ahead of the Lag B’omer festival, at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, in Meron, northern Israel on May 15, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The seller, who was not identified in the report, advised that as long as there are still places available, it is cheaper to buy via the official ticket office, but “as soon as there are no places at the site and I get more places for you, it will be more expensive.”

He also told the reporters that he can arrange tickets that will allow the holder to stay at the site for longer than the permitted four hours.

Kan did not say if it appeared the passes would pass scrutiny.

During a tour of Mount Meron on Monday, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana said that “over the past months we have done the best we can so that this year, all those celebrating will return home safely and anyone who wants to can come and celebrate in a manner as similar as possible to the customary way.”

Northern District Police chief Shimon Lavi, left, and Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana, center, during a tour at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, in Meron, northern Israel, May 16, 2022, ahead of the Lag B’omer festival. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Police Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi told the media at the tour that the number of people who will be permitted at any one time at the site “is based on analysis and reports from safety engineers, with the whole idea being to maintain order and safety for the public.”

Lavi warned that “anyone who doesn’t have a ticket has no reason to come to Meron.”

Organizers have also published calls by top rabbis to obey instructions from safety officials, Kan reported.

However, some in the ultra-Orthodox community are pushing the public to ignore the new rules.

Kan broadcast a recorded message, in Yiddish, from one information call center operating in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood that urged action against officials, who were referred to as the “wicked people who are damaging” the honor of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It called on pilgrims to travel to Meron early, on Tuesday and Wednesday, apparently to force entry to the site by sheer weight of numbers.

Israeli rescue forces and police stand on the stairs where a mass of people were crushed to death and injured during the celebrations of the Lag B’Omer holiday on Mount Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The tragedy on April 30, 2021, occurred as thousands of celebrants 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 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 complex were administered by different ultra-Orthodox groups, making regulation and organization difficult.

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.

The Knesset approved this week a NIS 500,000 ($160,000) grant in “initial aid” for each of the 45 victims to their bereaved families.

On Monday ten bereaved families from last year’s disaster filed suit against the 2021 event organizers.

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