News from April 26 to May 2
Lag B'Omer stampede and honorable mentions
|Spencer Kaplan||May 3|
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A fair warning, today’s newsletter is going to be shorter than usual. I write News of the Jews on Sunday evenings every week, but as some of you know, I graduated from Duke University yesterday!
Thank you all for reading the newsletter every week! Writing for all of you has certainly enriched my college experience. A lot of folks have asked me if I’m going to keep up the newsletter after graduation, and the answer is yes, at least for the time being. However, if you are interested in helping out with News of the Jews (research, writing, editing, etc.) or you know someone who may be interested, definitely reach out! I could use some help!
Now, for the news:
What happened? Last Friday, 45 people were killed and 150 were injured at a Lag B’Omer event at Mt. Meron in Israel when a stampede suddenly crushed individuals leaving the facility. Reports suggested that tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had attended the gathering, despite warnings from officials that the site was not equipped for such a high occupancy (some estimates reached up to 100,000 attendees). The stampede, which killed six United States citizens, appeared to occur after attendees rushed to exit through a narrow passageway that grew slippery from spilled water and grape juice. An investigation into the stampede is underway.
The victims of the Mt. Meron stampede. Source: @Israel on Twitter.
Why were thousands gathered together for a religious festival? Every year, tens of thousands of people flock to Mt. Meron to celebrate Lag B’Omer, a holiday that commemorates the 2nd century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.* Celebrants typically light bonfires and sing songs at Bar Yochai’s tomb at Mt. Meron. This year, the event proceeded as normal even as officials warned that it could lead to significant COVID-19 spread (Israel has lifted many restrictions following a world-leading vaccination campaign).
* Different groups celebrate Lag b’Omer for different reasons
How have people reacted? Here are a few notable reactions:
President Joe Biden: “The United States stands with the people of Israel, and with Jewish communities the world over, in mourning the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron. I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu today to offer my profound condolences on behalf of the American people to our friends in Israel. The loss of life among worshipers practicing their faith is heartbreaking. I have instructed my team to offer our assistance to the government and people of Israel as they respond to the disaster and care for the wounded. We are also working to confirm reports that American citizens may have lost their lives or been wounded during the religious observance of Lag B’Omer. Our Embassy and Department of State will provide all necessary support to any U.S. citizens and their family members affected by this sad event. The people of the United States and Israel are bound together by our families, our faiths, and our histories, and we will stand with our friends. Our prayers are with those who were injured and all those who lost loved ones. May their memories be a blessing.”
European Union Ambassador to Israel: “We are shocked and very saddened by the terrible news of the wounded and killed at the Lag B'Omer celebration on Mount Meron. Our condolences to the families of the victims and best wishes for a speedy recovery to all the injured.”
Queen Elizabeth: “I was deeply saddened by news of the disaster at the Lag B’Omer festival in Meron, Israel. My thoughts are with all those who have been injured, and the friends and families of those who lost their lives. They have my deepest sympathies.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan: “Our hearts go out to the people of Israel tonight following the terrible tragedy at Mount Meron. We offer our condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones in this disaster, and wish a full and swift recovery to those injured.”
UAE Embassy in Israel: “Our hearts go out to the people of Israel who lost their loved ones in the tragedy during #LagBOmer celebrations in Mt. #Meron. HE @AmbAlKhaja, @UAEinIsrael team and all the people of the UAE offer condolences to the families, and wish a full and swift recovery to those injured.”
Officials from Bahrain and Jordan also reached out to their Israeli counterparts.
“Iran’s Foreign Minister, in Leaked Tape, Says Revolutionary Guards Set Policies” by Farnaz Fassihi (NYT) (In the tapes, Iran’s Foreign Minister said that former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him of Israeli operations against Iranian targets in Syria, a claim which Kerry denies. Here’s a good analysis of the tapes.)
“China Embassy Deletes Tweet Depicting US, Israel As Grim Reaper” by Aaron Bandler (Jewish Journal)
“Sean Hannity demands apology for Jerusalem Post article noting accusations of antisemitism” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)
“After 100 days, Jewish leaders weigh in on Biden’s domestic policy” by Gabby Deutch (Jewish Insider)
“Former CIA head targets Jewish suffering in Israel’s actions - analysis” by Seth Frantzman (JPost)
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