For those who’ve never been in Israel for Lag B’Omer, it’s hard to describe the feeling of celebration that typically marks this day. Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, represents a break from the spirit of mourning that by tradition permeates the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.
Normally, this is a day of weddings and joyful gatherings, with public parks across Israel filled with barbeques and bonfires. In more Orthodox circles, boys who turn three receive their first haircut on Lag B’Omer. And many people flock to Mount Meron to visit the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the second-century kabbalistic mystic. The Rabbi is believed to have died on Lag B’Omer, but exhorted his students in advance to mark his passing as a day of celebration and not mourning.
Against this backdrop, and particularly this year as Israel emerges from the pandemic, there are no words to describe the extent of the tragedy at Mount Meron yesterday. In what is being described as Israel’s worst peacetime disaster, at least 45 people were killed in a stampede and more than 150 injured. Today’s message is simply a prayer for the people who lost their lives and the devastated families who enter Shabbat in mourning. We also pray for the swift and full recovery of the injured and the safe return of those who are still missing.
The government of Israel has appropriately committed to a full investigation of what happened. But for now, we acknowledge that for Israel and for the entire Jewish world, this is a moment of profound grief.
May God comfort all among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.