Two Canadians die in stampede at Meron, Israel

mount meron crowd
Photo courtesy Israel Police, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Two Canadians have been confirmed to have died in a stampede as crowds celebrating Lag b’Omer in Meron, Israel, became caught in a bottleneck at the site, killing 45 people and injuring at least 150 on April 29.

The crush occurred as crowds were leaving the site and became trapped in a narrow walkway with slippery metal flooring.

According to news reports, about 100,00 people flocked to the site in northern Israel where the holiday of Lag b’Omer is traditionally celebrated amid singing, bonfires and visits to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Photos from the scene showed rows of bodies covered with bags, as police and paramedics tried to reach the injured and evacuate the area.

Shraga Gestetner, a 35-year-old Hasidic singer from Montreal, who was living in Monsey, New York, was among those who died at the scene. The Times of Israel reported that a call went out on social media for people to attend his funeral in Israel on Friday, since he did not have family in the country.

Shraga Gestetne album
Shraga Gestetne’s album

Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich also called on anyone who could do so to attend, saying: “We won’t leave him alone in his final moments.”

Hundreds of people attended his funeral in Jerusalem.

Israel Nabul, an event producer who knew Gestetner, said he was a “wonderful man who died in tragic circumstances,” Times of Israel reported.

Gestetner was a father of five children. In an interview in 2012 with Arutz Sheva radio, he discussed the album of traditional music he had released, entitled Shragee (a spelling of his first name).

“It’s a collection of … a lot of happy songs, a lot of not sad, you can’t call them sad, but warm songs,” he said.

Montreal yeshiva student Dovi Steinmetz, also died in the crush of people.

Lionel Perez, opposition leader at Montreal City Hall, tweeted: “My family and I are devastated by the passing of Dovi Steinmetz z’l. Our hearts go out to Shloimie & Faigy for this agony. Dovi was outgoing, loved by all and a friend of our son Amram. We will be there to support you.”

The Yeshiva World website reported that Steinmetz was a student at Yeshiva Mir Yerushalayim.

In Canada, politicians and Jewish organizations expressed their shock at the events and extended their condolences to the victims.

El Al Airlines said it was offering up to two airline tickets per family to bring family members to Israel, the Israeli Embassy posted on Facebook.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “Tragic news from Israel today – Canada is sending its deepest condolences to everyone who lost a loved one at Mount Meron, and wishing a full and speedy recovery to those who were injured. We’re keeping you all in our thoughts.”

Marc Garneau, Minister of Foreign Affairs and MP for a Montreal riding, tweeted “Canada stands with the people of Israel and the Jewish community in extending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the tragedy that occurred during the Lag b’Omer festival at #MountMeron. We wish those who were injured a speedy recovery.”

The Jewish Hasidic Council of Quebec, expressed the pain of losing two community members.

“At this time, we are united as one through our grief and tears, as we mourn the two Montreal lives tragically lost in this incident. Our prayers are with the Steinmetz and Gestetner families, of our Montreal community, on the tragic loss of life of their loved ones,” the organization said in a statement.

National Jewish organizations expressed similar feelings of shock and sadness.

Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a statement, “We are deeply thankful to United Hatzalah, Magen David Adom, and the four hospitals that are treating the wounded. The many messages of support and solidarity flooding in from across the region and around the world in the face of this tragedy have brought some comfort

“We also note that Israelis – religious and secular, Jewish and Arab – have come together to grieve this tragic loss of life and offer practical support for the injured and the families of those whose lives were lost. We in the Diaspora stand with them during this terribly sad time.”

Jewish Federations of Canada also extended its condolences to the victims. “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life at Mt. Meron in Israel during what should have been a joyous celebration of Lag b’Omer. Our hearts are broken for the many families who lost loved ones… and we pray for the swift recovery of the many injured,” said Nikki Holland, CEO of JFC-UIA.

Mizrachi of Canada will hold a community-wide virtual reading of Psalms on Sunday, May 2 at 10 a.m. in memory of the victims.