Israel PM wants to avoid another major disaster

Following are Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s remarks to the public on the occasion of Lag B’Omer, the festivities of which will be held this evening : “I greet those going up to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and those celebrating Lag B’Omer around the world.”

Lag BaOmer is a Jewish religious holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. According to kabbalistic tradition, this day marks the hillula (celebration, interpreted by some as anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, “the Rashbi”, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of kabbalah in the form of the Zohar (Book of Splendor, literally ‘radiance’), a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. This association has spawned several well-known customs and practices on Lag BaOmer, including the lighting of bonfires, pilgrimages to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the northern Israeli town of Meron, and various customs at the tomb itself. However, the association of Lag BaOmer with the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai may be based on a printer’s error.

Another tradition that makes Lag BaOmer a day of Jewish celebration identifies it as the day on which the plague that killed Rabbi Akiva‘s 24,000 disciples came to an end, and for this reason the mourning period of Sefirat HaOmer concludes on Lag BaOmer for some believers.

In modern Israel, Lag BaOmer is “a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit”. The Palmach division of the Haganah was established on Lag BaOmer 1941, and the government order creating the Israel Defense Forces was issued on Lag BaOmer 1948. Beginning in 2004, the Israeli government designated Lag BaOmer as the day for saluting the IDF reserves.

Exactly a year ago, events at Meron turned into disaster. On 30 April 2021, a deadly crowd crush occurred in Meron, Israel, during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer, at which it was estimated that 100,000 people were in attendance. Forty-five men and boys at the event were killed, and about 150 were injured, dozens of them critically, making it the deadliest civil disaster in the history of the State of Israel. In light of those events, Israel’s prime mInister continued his public address.

“The celebration on Mt. Meron is an event that expresses love of Israel, bringing people together, holiness and joy.  The celebration brings the entire Jewish people together – religious and secular, ultra-orthodox and traditional, everyone together! The Government of Israel has made a considerable investment in order to facilitate an extensive and safe participation.  I ask the public to act in accordance with the directives that have been published and to go only with a ticket so that we can have a safe celebration.

This also applies to those celebrating around the country – follow the safety rules. I thank Deputy Religious Services Minister MK Matan Kahane who took upon himself the work of preparing the event, Israel Police Deputy Commissioner (ret.) Tzvika Tesler who is overseeing the event and the Israel Police officers who will act to safeguard the visitors. I wish all Israel a happy and safe holiday.”

This article contains excerpts from the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel 

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