UTJ’s Porush returns as minister of Meron pilgrimage after getting powers he sought

Haredi MK had quit, complaining Center for Holy Sites not relinquishing control of annual event, scene of 2021 deadly crush; PM commends him, tells relevant parties to cooperate

United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush (left) and Yossi Deitch tour Mount Meron ahead of the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer which annually attracts tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers, February 13, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush (left) and Yossi Deitch tour Mount Meron ahead of the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer which annually attracts tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers, February 13, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Senior United Torah Judaism lawmaker Meir Porush on Sunday walked back his resignation from his governmental role as the minister overseeing the annual Jewish pilgrimage to Mount Meron, after being granted the powers he demanded.

In his resignation letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Tuesday, Porush complained that the annual springtime event, which draws hundreds of thousands of people to a northern shrine for a single night, was being organized by an outside firm that he had no role in choosing.

The government on Sunday transferred authority over producing the event to Porush. In response, the minister withdrew his resignation and vowed to resume his work in ensuring the traditional gathering goes ahead safely.

The pilgrimage was the scene of Israel’s worst-ever civilian disaster on April 30, 2021, when 45 people were killed in a stampede caused by overcrowding on a faulty walkway. Amid a review of procedures to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe, the event was placed under the responsibility of a government minister.

“I thank the prime minister for his quick involvement and meaningful action in recent days, in order to bring an immediate solution to the crisis and advance the success of the festivities,” Porush said in a statement.

Netanyahu said, “I want to commend Minister Porush who took the responsibility upon himself to carry out a safe and happy celebration, and for implementing the recommendations of the investigation committee following the grave disaster. The success of Minister Porush is a joint task of the entire government and I instruct the relevant parties to cooperate and assist him.”

Porush in January was made minister of Jerusalem, Tradition and Mount Meron.

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

At the center of Porush’s complaints were clashes between his own office, the Religious Affairs Ministry, and the National Center for the Development of Holy Sites over responsibility for the event. The center is responsible for the Meron location and had been in charge of previous pilgrimage events.

The Religious Affairs Ministry is led by a lawmaker for Shas, another Haredi party in the coalition.

During coalition talks, Porush had specifically asked for responsibility over any changes to be made at Meron as a result of the findings of the state inquiry committee still probing the tragic stampede. Porush, No. 3 on UTJ’s electoral list, had objected to the formation of that state inquiry.

Mount Meron, the site of the grave of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, is traditionally visited by thousands of mainly ultra-Orthodox worshipers on the anniversary of his death during the holiday of Lag B’Omer, several weeks after Passover. This year, Lag B’Omer begins on the evening of May 8.

Porush’s temporary resignation came as Haredi parties expressed anger over a lack of budget earmarks for Haredi education and public transportation in areas where many ultra-Orthodox people live, and a day after the anti-LGBTQ Noam party’s sole lawmaker quit the government, also claiming coalition agreements were not being upheld.

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