Israel: 8,000 officers mobilized for Orthodox gathering

45 people died on Mount Meron a year ago

18 May, 18:09

    TEL AVIV - Over 8,000 police officers and soldiers have been mobilized to guarantee the regular annual Jewish pilgrimage of Lag ba-Omer on Mount Meron, in Galilee, which starts on Wednesday night and continues for 60 hours.

    Last year, on that occasion, 4,000 pilgrims were suddenly trapped in a narrow street and 45 people died in the stampede in what is considered the most serious civil incident in Israel's history. In order to avoid another similar tragedy, over the past few months in the sanctuary of rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron several illegal buildings were demolished. Moreover worshippers - over 70,000 in 2021 - were told this year to buy tickets that will enable them to remain in the place of worship for a maximum of four hours.

    "There will be a constant flow, there won't be more than 17,000 people at a time", assured the deputy minister of religious services, Matan Kahana. However, in the environments of Orthodox Jewish extremism - which for ideological reasons does not recognize the secular State of Israel - influential rabbis have already said that they will fight against these limitations. Over the past few days, said Kahane, extremists have cut down fencing, damaged loudspeakers and screens and threatened to enter with fake tickets "to make the authority's plan fail". Premier Naftali Bennett on Wednesday launched an appeal to worshippers to act "with the utmost responsibility". "If everybody returns home safe, it will be a success for us", said Kahane.

    The festivity of Lag ba-Omer remembers the Jewish rebellion of 132 AD led by Shimon Bar Cochba against Roman legions. In this circumstance, bonfires are organized across Israel to emulate the nighttime messages between the rioters. Orthodox Jews arrive on Mount Meron to pray on the tomb of Bar Yochai, a famous rabbi from the second century AD, who according to tradition is the author of the mystical text of 'Zohar', the splendor.

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