Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana with Tzvi Tessler in Meron
Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana with Tzvi Tessler in Meron Spokesperson

The government’s recently appointed superintendent for Meron, Major-Gen. (res.) Tzviki Tessler, has suggested that with sufficient planning and organization, approximately the same number of people as every other year will be able to spend time in Meron at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on Lag b’Omer.

“We’re now several months into the year of mourning for the victims of the tragedy in Meron,” Tessler said, speaking on Radio Kol Chai, a radio station that caters to the haredi community. “I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the families. What happened in Meron obligates us to take action, in accordance with the intermediate findings of the commission of inquiry that was set up to investigate the disaster.”

According to Tessler, some of the commission’s findings can be implemented already, even though the investigation has yet to conclude and its final recommendations will likely only be published in several months’ time, after the proceedings were paused due to the passing of the commission’s chair, former Supreme Court President Miriam Naor.

“For example, the recommendation to have just one, main bonfire is something we should do,” Tessler said. “We should also limit the number of people there at any one time. But I think we can implement a plan that will allow the same number of people as every other year to reach the site, without overcrowding,” he added, contradicting previous estimates that suggested that the numbers would have to be drastically reduced.

Tessler stressed that the commission of inquiry was looking into all the options, but insisted that allowing multiple bonfires “creates big safety issues” and is more problematic than having just one bonfire, even though it would almost by definition attract a huge crowd rather than dispersing people among many events.

He added that he was in contact with various Hassidic leaders and their community organizers and was willing to listen to their concerns. “I have been meeting with many Hassidic groups, as well as with members of the Sephardi community on this issue,” he said. “A great number of people are concerned about what happens in Meron, and involving them is extremely important – even more important than the organization of the event itself. I want to be able to understand everyone’s point of view, their customs, what matters to them. That’s what I’m trying my hardest to achieve.”