This post was written very soon after the catastrophe with the information at hand (both from reports & from my sons) and also before eyewitness reports came in. My apologies for using disrespectful or inaccurate terms or reporting. Those have been changed.
But this year, Lag B'Omer remains quiet.
I can't even hear the faintest strain of melody or the vaguest beat of bass tones.
And we all know why.
That shocking tragedy Erev Lag B'Omer preceded the horrific event that occurred later on Lag B'Omer itself.
I didn't understand at first what happened in Meron or how it happened. And the full details still aren't available.
At first, news outlets reported a stampede occurred because a balcony collapsed. Then the balcony became bleachers. Then they said nothing collapsed; the catastrophe occurred due to a closed in area with a ramp & stairs, which causes a downward momentum difficult to halt (in other words, there was no stampede either).
However, my teenage son's friend said that he was on the bleachers, which were shaking, and indeed, he said there was some kind of collapse. So I don't know.
But having lived in Eretz Yisrael for over half my life and having been in crowds here and knowing how these things work, I wondered out loud how such a deadly disaster could have occurred.
After all, despite copious propaganda to the opposite, frum Jews are actually very good at looking out for both themselves and others together.
We saw this during Rav Ovadia Yosef's funeral, which reached over a million participants, yet nary one death from crowding or trampling.
The police hadn't prepared for such a massive turnout, so it was mostly the people themselves who prevented any tragedies.
For instance, participants formed protective rings of space around parents with small children to prevent the children from being crowded, suffocated, or trampled.
The few who passed out or suffered medical problems were supported until a sea of helpful hands managed to pass a stretcher to them, and then people managed to move (without trampling others) or passed the person on the stretcher via the crowd to the waiting ambulances.
That's just one example.
So in Meron, I knew that people would shout back about other people having fallen or being squished, and that call would be repeated back until other end of the crowd.
But my son pointed out that music blasted from the speakers, preventing such shouts from being heard.
Oh. I'd forgotten about that part.
Yes, they cut out all the music as soon as they realized what was happening. But a lot of heart-breaking damage had occurred already.
And yes, one particularly large chassid managed to hold back the crowd to rescue someone from the ground.
Probably others also managed to save lives.
But the death toll still horrifies and shocks.
I got ahold of one immediately because he and his friend got stuck at a gas station halfway down Route 6.
This prevented them from being in Meron at the time of the disaster, baruch Hashem.
They said that suddenly dozens of buses packed with people started filling up the parking lot. They saw people streaming off the buses, very emotional and in a state of disarray (like a boy missing a kippah and one shoe).
That's when my son and his friend found out what happened.
But like a lot of others, I couldn't get through to my other son (who already arrived in Meron) because of the overloaded cell service.
I only managed to reach him in Meron at 4 in the morning (with loudspeakers blasting names in the background: "To So-and-So—please call home!") to discover he hadn't been at the exact site of the tragedy, but he and his friends helped a couple of ambulances get up the hill. (Some of the ambulances were sliding or skidding; not clear why.)
What a heartbreaking contrast to the story my other son heard while still stuck at the gas station.
A Zaka volunteer arrived at the gas station in a state of shock & wearing stained clothes. He plopped down to rest and his traumatic experience came pouring out to the people around him, saying something like:
"There I was zipping a body into a body bag in order to prevent bizayon hameit [desecration of the dead] when the front of his jacket started vibrating—his cell phone. I took out the cell phone, glanced at the screen, and saw the word Ima—Mother. What could I do? What was I supposed to do? Answer and tell her I'm right in the middle of declaring her son a fatality? What exactly was I supposed to do? What?"
No one had words for such an awful situation. Just everyone's hearts went out to him.
In the car-motorcycle collision, we don't know which driver was at fault.
In Meron, people point fingers at the actions of the police (with good reason), but we still don't know exactly how and to what extent. (UPDATE: As more eyewitness reports pour in, it's increasingly looking like the police not only caused the entire disaster, but even made things worse. That's how it appears with the information available up until now.)
For the people in the crowd, they live with the horror that, against their will, they were part of the crush against their fellow Jews, something they desperately tried to avoid.
And we're still waiting to hear from the Gedolei HaDor on the issue.
In particular, I'm waiting to hear the words Rav Itamar Schwartz, whose insights and mussar always help so much.
Yet from whichever angle you look, there is an obvious bein-adam-l'chavero (person-to-person) message here—especially since it occurred during the Omer, which mourns the death of Rebbe Akiva's students in a plague resulting from a hairline deficiency in bein-adam-l'chavero.
Exactly what? Not sure. Like I said, still waiting to hear from the Sages who really know.
May all the ill & wounded of Am Yisrael please merit a complete refuah.
And may Hashem please bring the Geula with compassion & may we only hear good news.