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April 30, 2021 3:27 pm
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As Names of Victims Emerge, Mount Meron Survivors Recount Details of Disaster: ‘I Couldn’t Stop’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man reacts as he takes part in a funeral for Rabbi Elazar Goldberg after he died during Lag B’Omer commemorations, in Jerusalem April 30, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Information on the Mount Meron tragedy — in which the annual Lag B’Omer celebration turned into a catastrophe after 45 people were crushed to death by the crowds, and over 150 injured — continued to come in on Friday, with those injured speaking out and details emerging on those who lost their lives.

Haim, who was injured in the incident, told Channel 13 that he and others were crushed beneath the crowd, and “we got to a situation where people couldn’t breathe. Hundreds of people were there, I heard shouts of ‘I can’t breathe,’ it was insane.”

Gil, who was moderately injured, described the events as well, saying, “We went into a passageway with stairs, around four by nineteen meters in size, a place meant to hold something like 50 people at most, and I think there were something like more than 500 people there.”

“The front row just fell,” he continued, “and those above didn’t see that it fell and continued to push and there were a lot of people. One row after another row after another row … There were many tragedies.”

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However, he said, “there was also a fantastic rescue team there.”

Another, anonymous, eyewitness told the outlet, “General chaos, that’s what happened.”

He said that the initial cause of the incident was a slippery iron walkway, followed by a flight of stairs. “It was a recipe for disaster,” he said, “because suddenly — boom, glitch.”

He added that he was in flat-soled shoes, and as a result, “I couldn’t stop, and suddenly I saw one falling on top of another, and then the screams started.”

Haim Spielberg, a volunteer with the emergency service ZAKA, called the scene “one of the hardest tragedies I’ve ever dealt with. … I saw dozens of people lying on the floor. … There were screams for help from everywhere. There was a smell of death and grief in the air.”

He said that he and other volunteers were particularly shocked by the victims’ cell phones, which never stopped ringing as relatives attempted to check on their condition.

“Tears fell from my eyes when I saw on the telephone screens ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ or other worried family members.”

Israeli news site Walla reported that 32 of the dead have been identified so far, with 22 of the bodies being released for burial.

Among the dead were Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, 12, and Yosef David Elhadad, 18, two brothers from Jerusalem who were found in the narrow passageway. Another two brothers were also killed — Moshe Natan Neta Englander, 14, and Yehoshua Englander, 9.

Among the other victims were Rabbi Zvi Klagsbald, 43, who was a Kolel and yeshiva head, and left behind a wife and eight children.

Menachem Zakbach, 24, of Modi’in Ilit, left behind a pregnant wife and a one-year-old child.

Moshe Levi, 14, of Bnei Brak, was allowed to attend the event by his family as a reward for his attentive studies.

Rabbi Shimon Matalon, 37, who taught Talmud-Torah in Beitar Ilit, left behind ten children. His community issued a message saying he was “self-sacrificing, holy, and cleaving to the blessed name [God], with a shining face and love of Israel, happiness and faith were his lot, and he imparted and radiated this to all those around them.”

Haim Ozer Seller, 24, of Jerusalem, became the father of a girl two weeks ago.

Yehuda Leib Rubin, 27, left behind a wife and three children, and was the son of Yom Tov Rubin, an editor of a major Haredi newspaper.

Also killed was Shragi Gestetner, 28, a popular Haredi singer from Montreal, Canada who came to Israel specifically to perform at the Mount Meron event.

Yisrael Nabul, a Haredi event producer, told N12, “He was an extraordinary man who died in tragic circumstances.”

Because Gestetner’s entire family is in Canada and cannot reach Israel at the moment, it was decided that he would be buried in Jerusalem. Nabul took on the task of bringing as many people as possible to the funeral, as Gestetner had no relations or close friends in Israel itself. He used Haredi Whatsapp groups to put the word out, and five hundred people eventually attended.

“It was important to us that he not be buried alone,” said Nabul. “The Haredi community has lost a great singer, it’s impossible to describe the size of the tragedy.”

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