Why Meron is important to Judaism and why so many people were there

In previous years more than 1 million people have visited the town on Lag BaOmer.
Rescue workers look for survivors of a stampede in Meron, Israel, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Courtesy: United Hatzalah)

At least 45 people were killed in a stampede in Meron, Israel, Thursday night and that number is expected to climb throughout the evening. At least 100 people were injured, many critically.

Why is Meron important to Judaism?

Meron, Israel. (Courtesy: Google Maps)

Meron is a tiny town situated on a mountain in the woods of northern Israel.  Buried there are several famous rabbis including Hillel, Shammai and Shimon bar Yohai (also known as Simeon ben Yohai).

Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai in Meron, Israel. (Courtesy: Google Earth)

In previous years more than 1 million people have visited the town on Lag BaOmer for Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai’s yahrzeit. Rabbi Bar Yohai is believed to be the author of the Zohar and before his death in the 2nd century he requested his students to mark the anniversary of his death with a day of rejoicing. Since his passing it has become popular to visit Meron on Lag BaOmer to celebrate his life. The tradition is popular amongst Haredi and non-Haredi Jews worldwide.

What happened?

Thursday night was the first time since 2019 that Meron was opened for worshipers and more than 100,000 had gathered there for Lag BaOmer festivities. Most of the time the population of Meron sits right under 1,000 inhabitants.

Details are still forthcoming, but officials say that during the festivities a stampede occurred and at least 45 people were killed making it the worst mass casualty civilian disaster in Israel’s history. Among the dead are Israelis, Americans and Canadians.

At 3:11:14 on this livestream you can see rescue workers entering the facility.