TEL AVIV: Israel observed a day of mourning on Sunday for 45 people crushed to death at a Jewish religious festival, with flags lowered to half-staff and questions raised about accountability for one of the country’s worst civilian disasters.
In accordance with Jewish tradition, funerals were held with as little delay as possible. More than 20 of the victims of Friday’s disaster on Mount Meron were buried overnight after official identification was completed.
“I only wish that we achieve even a small fraction of your stature in studies and holy devotion,” Avigdor Chayut said, eulogising his 13-year-old son, Yedidya, at a funeral in the town of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.
The victims died when an overnight annual pilgrimage by large crowds of ultra-Orthodox faithful to the tomb of a second-century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in northern Israel ended in a stampede.
Witnesses described a pyramid of bodies, including several children, in a packed and slippery metal-floored passageway.
Israeli media outlets estimated that some 100,000 people attended the event, numbers that underscored a relaxing of coronavirus restrictions in a country that had sped ahead of others in its vaccination rollout.
Evidence was mounting that it was a disaster waiting to happen at a pilgrimage site that state investigators had labelled years ago as hazardous. — Reuters