The traditional Lag Ba’omer celebrations at Meron in the Galilee that started
Saturday night have been marred this year by transport chaos caused by at least
300,000 pilgrims trying to reach the site and subsequent medical complications
arising from the hot weather conditions on Sunday.
Due to the combination
of severe overcrowding on the small Galilee hill of Mount Meron, the searing
temperatures and inadequate organization, hundreds of people required treatment
on site for illness and injuries, and dozens more were evacuated to Safed’s Ziv
The public health danger was not over, however, as the
celebrations were extended to Sunday night and Monday as well.
Ba’omer is the day halting the semi-mourning period between Passover and Shavuot
for the death by plague of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 pupils in Roman times and the
anniversary of the death of Talmudic sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar
As in years past, hundreds of thousands of people from around the
country made their way to Mount Meron Saturday night – the burial place of Bar
Yohai, who lived in the first century CE – for the raucous celebrations of the
holiday, which include the lighting of bonfires, singing, dancing and general
But tens of thousands became stuck in enormous traffic jams
approaching the site, particularly from parking lots, located several kilometers
away, to the area of the tomb itself.
Many visitors were forced to walk
to Mount Meron from the parking lot areas located several kilometers from the
site, with some fainting because of the intense heat prevailing over the region
Magen David Adom, which as every year set up a makeshift
first-aid center on Mount Meron, had 15 ambulances, four mobile intensive care
centers and two stations to deal with catastrophes, plus dozens of motorcycles
and hundreds of medics, paramedics and doctors at the site since Friday. By
Sunday evening, 348 people were treated, and 60 were hospitalized.
man, aged 45, was in moderate-to-serious condition from burns and smoke
inhalation there, while all others who underwent treatment were listed in good
condition after treatment.
Among the medical problems were burns, smoke
inhalation, physical trauma due to falls and other causes, nausea and vomiting
due to improperly stored food, over-consumption of alcohol and
Hospital director Dr. Oscar Embon said that his emergency
department prepares in advance for Lag Ba’omer sick and injured every
“The celebration brings hundreds of thousands of people to a small
area. The crowding and heat cause many to suffer from hyperthermia.
far, the patients have suffered light injuries, but we are prepared for all
situations and hope the celebrations pass peacefully,” he said.
the public to observe the security arrangements, follow instructions of the
police, take care at bonfires, drink a lot of water due to the heat and take
special care of babies, children and the elderly, who are even more
By late Sunday morning police stated that traffic had begun
to flow again, adding that the police forces had distributed 50,000 bottles of
water to people caught up in the traffic jams and walking to the
United Hatzalah, which also sent large amounts of first-aid
volunteers to the site, said it was “chaotic” because the transportation
services “collapsed,” leaving many thousands standing on their feet with nowhere
to rest and no way to get home. Some with chronic illness were stuck without
their medications or medical equipment and became sick.
Hyman-Katz, who came from Jerusalem and was taken to Ziv after feeling unwell,
said she sat in the bus for eight hours because the driver was unable to get to
the site. The passengers finally got off and hiked to Meron for over 90 minutes.
A MDA ambulance evacuated her.
Yosef Urbino of Gush Etzion, whose wife
Yaffa was hospitalized after fainting, said their bus was prevented from
proceeding 5 kilometers from Meron due to traffic jams. Instead, the passengers
were forced to trek uphill for many kilometers.
“We finally arrived,”
said Yosef. “There was no place in the shade to sit and not even any benches.
People handed out water, but it wasn’t in large enough quantities for the crowd.
My wife passed out and was taken to Ziv.”
He added that it was
unfortunate that there weren’t garbage cans or cleaners.
“It’s a shame
that in such an important and holy site, teams were not available to keep things
clean. There was garbage piled all over the grounds.”
Although, some 40
years ago, the number of pilgrims going to Meron on Lag Ba’omer was far fewer
than today, the site has been plagued with deaths due to crowding going back
over a century. In 1911, a stage collapsed, causing the deaths of nine
Several United Torah Judaism MKs have condemned the chaotic
situation and called for the establishment of an investigative
Meron is the second largest place of pilgrimage in the country
after the Western Wall. Last year, approximately half a million people went to
the site on Lag Ba’omer, with a similar number expected this year as
The central bonfire at Meron is customarily lit by the grand rabbi
of the Boyan hassidic dynasty.
One organization, Yeshivat HaMekubalim Or
HaRashbi, provided approximately 200,000 free meals to visitors during the
celebrations, which were set to continue throughout Sunday night and
Haim Ze’evald , a representative of Or HaRashbi said: “At Meron
there are no differences between communities.
Everyone comes here to
celebrate together and in unity.”