Israel’s Response to the Mount Meron Tragedy Shows Its National Spirit

May 3, 2021 | Herb Keinon
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On Thursday night, a stampede left 45 people dead and many more injured at Mount Meron in the Galilee. They were among some 90,000 mostly ḥaredi pilgrims who gathered at the burial place of the 2nd-century sage Shimon bar Yoḥai for a traditional celebration of Lag ba-Omer. For several years, public-safety experts, government officials, and others have warned that the pilgrimages are dangerously overcrowded, and called for better regulation. Herb Keinon notes that there is much blame to go around, but finds in Israel’s response an inspiring patriotism:

After the initial shock of the scope of the tragedy seeped in, the concern of some when they heard the news was that in today’s Israel—a country where the divisions between the ḥaredi and non-ḥaredi communities have rarely been greater—this would be viewed as a sectoral tragedy, a ḥaredi tragedy, not a national one.

But that didn’t happen. The country, as it knows how to do in times of tragedy, rallied together. Flags were flown at half-mast for the victims, one or two of whom may not even have recognized the authority of the nation standing behind that flag. A day of national mourning was declared. Somber music was played on the radio. The voice of a seasoned radio presenter, . . . Esti Perez, cracked when she read the names, ages, and places of residence of the victims.

These deaths were not mourned only by the ḥaredi “tribe,” but by the whole nation. People from each of Israel’s “tribes” went out and donated blood, and people from each of Israel’s “tribes” shed tears when they heard the heartbreaking stories and saw the gut-wrenching images. Despite the super-charged and even hateful rhetoric of recent months, despite the deep divisions highlighted by the coronavirus, mystic bonds of brotherhood still bind people here—something that provides badly needed solace at trying times such as these.

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