Rethinking Meron

Mt. Meron is a national landmark and magnet for visitors from across the world. It needs a corresponding level of advanced infrastructure, but up to now the Israeli government neglected it as unworthy of this macro-level attention.

Shalom Wasserteil ,

Shalom Wasserteil, esq.
Shalom Wasserteil, esq.
Shalom Wasserteil.
In 1989, England suffered a national tragedy, in which 96 fans of the Liverpool soccer team were crushed to death by crowds at the Hilsbro Stadium. Since fans had gotten violent at soccer games in the past, walls were constructed to prevent the flow of crowds from one area to the next. Unfortunately, these walls were poorly planned, resulting in a bottleneck that caused the deaths of close to a hundred people.

It took 24 years for the British government to finally establish an inquiry commission in 2012, to probe the mass overcrowding of excited visitors in an area that was unfit for the occasion and likely to lead to such a tragic occurrence.

Before an inquiry commission is established to probe the Meron tragedy (however long it might take the government to do so and however much longer it will take the commission to reach some kind of conclusion), I would like to address this terrible incident from a different angle, with a focus on the future.

Imagine if the Israeli government were offered, free of charge, a tourist site with tremendous potential for hundreds of thousands of visitors, men and women, from Israel and abroad. One day each year, the site would attract close to half a million people. This would require an appropriate level of preparation within the time-frame of one year – similar to the preparations made for the Olympics or Eurovision. How would the Israeli government rise to the challenge?

Without doubt, they would quickly establish an inter-ministerial committee, with top engineers and architects experienced in mass transportation. They would enlist the help of experts in crowd control, police representatives, the IDF, the Israel Land Authority, the Jewish National Fund, and more. This task-force would be expected to meet a tight schedule, and the necessary national resources would be allocated to their needs – resources on the scope that we managed to pull together to weather the Corona storm.

Viewed simply as a tourist opportunity, Meron should receive attention no less than any front-ranking national landmark. Until now, such has not been the case. The resources that Meron has received in the past has been no more than transportation logistics, deliberations over where to build the bonfires, and a meager budget to address some minor cosmetic repairs, but cannot hope to reach the macro-level overhaul it requires.

Now, after this terrible tragedy has occurred, whose warnings have been written on the wall for years, we must immediately assemble an inter-ministerial committee with a completely different outlook on a governmental and public level. The government must give Meron the attention it deserves as an international site, which requires a far greater level of infrastructure and preparation, something on par with an airport.

In addition, the public must realize that times have changed. The population has increased dramatically, and we cannot continue visiting Meron in the same way that we have done in the past. The first priority must always be the protection of human life, and this requires us to limit the amount of visitors at any given time, make the necessary adjustments in engineering, and heed the instructions of the police force that is there to keep the crowds in order.

Overcrowding at events is not a new thing. There have been several such incidents in the past, including the Victoria Hall tragedy of 1883, in which 183 children were trampled to death as they rushed to receive candies that were distributed on the other side of a narrow door. In 2015, 2,177 people were crushed to death at the pilgrimage to Mecca.

There are many lessons to be learned from experience. For example, after the Hilsbro Stadium incident, standing room places were cancelled and all visitors were required to have a seat number and an entrance ticket (something that might make us reconsider the standing room bleachers, commonly called "parenches," at Meron and tishes). Furthermore, the fences that prevented people from escaping were taken down.

But before we start looking abroad for precedents, let us consider our own history. Our Sages tell us that during the Pilgrimage Festivals in the time of the Beit HaMikdash, people stood crowded tightly together, but, miraculously, there was plenty of room for everyone when it came time to bow down. How could this be? When people make room in their hearts for one another, there is room for everyone to bow down.

Another example is when they would offer the Passover sacrifice, in which the entire nation was divided into three groups. One by one, the groups would enter the Beit HaMikdash, in order to limit overcrowding. Hillel the Elder testified that only once, over the course of hundreds of years, was there ever a casualty of human life. That fateful Pesach become known as "Pesach Me'uchin," which means the Passover of the Crushed. A plural form of the word was used, even though only one person was crushed to death. Since the entire Jewish nation is responsible for one another, the death of just one person was considered as if all were crushed.

A different kind of tragedy occurred once, when two Kohanim raced up the ramp to perform the Priestly service on the Mizbei'ach (Altar). One pushed the other, and he slipped off the ramp and fell to his death. An enactment was then made that no longer could they rush to be first. Rather, a lottery was drawn to determine which Kohen would serve.

This would seem to be a good solution for Meron. Regardless of the decisions of the proposed committee, we should make a lottery well in advance, to decide who will be able to visit Meron for Lag B'Omer, since there is simply not enough room for all to visit safely. Then we will merit the fulfillment of the verse, "I will give peace upon the land," which refers to peace among brothers, which is even more important than peace with our neighbors.

The author is the Director of Tzipha International Realtors