As the shivah for his son was ending last week, Shlomo Steinmetz spoke about his son Dovi’s happy nature and his desire to protect friends and even strangers at an inspirational evening organized by Chabad of Montreal.
Dovi, 21, was killed in a crush of people at Lag b’Omer festivities in Meron, Israel, on April 29.
Dovi, who was from Montreal, was a student at the Mir Yerushalayim Yeshiva. He was attending a Lag b’Omer celebration in northern Israel when he was killed as thousands of people tried to exit a slippery, narrow walkway. Shraga Gestetner, a 35-year-old musician and businessman originally from Montreal, also died in the incident. The two men were among 45 people who died.
In a 35-minute video, Shlomo Steinmetz described how he grew “more nervous by the hour” after hearing about the events at Meron and not being able to locate his son. Dovi’s older brother, who lives in Israel, had also been at Meron but left before the accident and was not injured.
After hours of not hearing anything about Dovi, Steinmetz told his older son to go to the Kotel to pray. While his son was en route to the Western Wall, the family received a call that he needed to go to Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to identify Dovi’s body.
“Nobody should ever be put in a situation as this—not as a parent, not as a grandparent, not as a friend,” Steinmetz said, his voice cracking. “We had him for 21 years and he was a diamond.”
Steinmetz and his wife Faigy flew to Israel for their son’s burial and then returned to Montreal to continue sitting shivah.
While they were driving to the airport, Faigy received a call from Shraga Gestetner’s mother. She in turn called the mother of Yossi Kohn, a friend of Dovi’s who also died in the crush. Steinmetz said he marvelled at how the mothers were able to support each other in the midst of such tragedy.
Steinmetz recounted how a cousin of his, who lives in Israel, went to console others who had lost family members in the tragedy and heard how Dovi and his friend Yossi saved a man and a child during the crush.
Avigdor Hayut, who lost two sons in the tragedy, said Dovi and his friend Yossi saw the family struggling in the crowd. Dovi told Hayut, who had injured his leg, that they would protect the children. The childrens’ bodies were found next to Dovi’s and Yossi’s, Steinmetz said.
Dovi “had a tremendous joie de vivre. He always took care of his friends all the time,” Steinmetz recalled.
The yeshiva student spoke with his father a few hours his death. He had sprained his ankle, but did not want to leave the festivities, which include bonfires, singing and praying at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The event was reported to have attracted 100,000 people.
Before Lag b’Omer, Dovi had planned a special Shabbat celebration and had spent 3,000 NIS at a local convenience store. The celebration was cancelled, and the store owner called return the money. Instead, Steinmetz told him to give it to poor people in the neighbourhood. Even after his death, Steinmetz said, his son is still helping people.