Crowd limits, staggered visitation recommended for celebrations at Meron

State Commission of Inquiry into Meron disaster recommends staggering the arrival of pilgrims to the holy site for the coming Lag Ba’omer celebation, limiting maximum number allowed on site.

Jewish worshippers sing and dance as they stand on tribunes at the Lag Ba’omer event on Mount Meron on April 29. (photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
Jewish worshippers sing and dance as they stand on tribunes at the Lag Ba’omer event on Mount Meron on April 29.
(photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)

The State Commission of Inquiry into the Meron disaster last Lag Ba’omer has published interim recommendations for managing the site during the next Lag Ba’omer celebrations to prevent a repeat of the deadly crush that claimed the lives of 45 men and boys in April.

Principal among those recommendations is that the number of pilgrims present on the Mount Meron site at any one time be limited, and that the arrival of pilgrims be staggered throughout the night and following day of the celebration to ensure that the crowd limit is not exceeded.

The recommendations of the three-member commission are intended for this upcoming Lag Ba’omer only, since the panel will not complete its inquiry and formulate recommendations for a permanent overhaul of the Meron site in time to ensure that the next Lag Ba’omer celebrations will be safe.

In April, 45 men and boys were crushed to death on a narrow walkway leading away from one of the main celebration areas on Mount Meron, where upwards of 200,000 pilgrims gather every year on Lag Ba’omer to celebrate the anniversary of the death of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Commission Chairwoman and former Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz, and Maj.-Gen (Res.) Shlomo Yannai noted in their interim recommendations that although some work has been conducted at Meron to remove some safety hazards and improve the infrastructure, it has not been completed and the site is still unsafe.

 MERON Commission chairwoman and former chief justice Miriam Naor and her team are seen in August accepting testimony in Jerusalem. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MERON Commission chairwoman and former chief justice Miriam Naor and her team are seen in August accepting testimony in Jerusalem. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The commission said the area available to pilgrims on the mountain needs to be expanded, and that they must be “channeled” to ensure that crowd congestion does not occur.

Critically, the commission recommended setting a maximum number of people allowed on the site at any one time, to be determined by the size of the available area and regulations regarding the amount of space required per person for the event to be safe.

The commission did not determine what the maximum number of visitors should be, because the removal of unsafe structures and other work needs to be completed before the total available area can be known.

The commission members stated however that according to information and testimonies gathered so far, the maximum number of people at any one time appeared to be around 20,000.

Given the massive demand to visit Meron on Lag Ba’omer, principally among the ultra-Orthodox public, the commission recommended staggering the arrival of shuttles and buses to the site throughout the night and following day of the holiday, and limiting the amount of time a pilgrim may spend on the mountain.

This would be enabled by selling tickets in advance and coordinating the arrival of buses and other modes of transportation to Meron.

The commission also recommended allowing only one mass bonfire-lighting ceremony, as opposed to several such ceremonies that have taken place in recent decades by different hassidic groups.

It was also recommended that a government minister be appointed to oversee the entire Lag Ba’omer celebration, who should in turn appoint an experienced official to carry out the minister’s instructions.

The commission said the minister should be appointed immediately, that a budget for the celebration be allocated as soon as possible, and that a plan for conducting the event be published within the next month.

“In light of the terrible disaster that occurred in 5781 [Lag Ba’omer 2021] and the urgent need for changes that would reduce the risks to the participants’ well-being, we are submitting at this time basic recommendations for safe preparation for the Hillula [anniversary] in 5782,” wrote the commission members.