New Yorkers among those trampled to death in ‘human avalanche’ at Israeli holy site


Several New Yorkers were among the 45 people trampled to death in a horrifying “human avalanche” that started during a stampede at a religious celebration in Israel, reports said Friday.

Menachem Knoblowitz of Brooklyn was fatally crushed during a pilgrimage that drew thousands of people to Mount Meron on Thursday night, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Yosef Amram Tauber, who had traveled to Jerusalem from the upstate town of Monsey to study, was also killed at thIne Jewish holy site, the outlet reported.

Eliezer Josef, a 26-year-old father of four from Kiryas Joel, and Shragy Gestetner, a 33-year-old rabbinical scholar from upstate Airmont, also died at the site, according to recordonline.com.

Other victims include two pairs of Israeli brothers, the youngest of whom was 9 years old.

Menachem Knoblowitz (right), a Brooklyn native, was one of the victims in Meron.
Menachem Knoblowitz (right), a Brooklyn native, was one of the victims at Mount Meron.
simchaspot

As many as 100,000 people — many of them ultra-Orthodox men —  were crammed onto the mountain compound after arriving on buses to celebrate the annual Lag Ba’omer festivities, the New York Times reported.

The joyful celebration turned into a nightmare when scores of adults and children were crushed and suffocated in an overcrowded narrow passageway, according to the paper, which cited witnesses.

People gather and celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer on Mount Meron, Israel.
In total, 45 people were trampled to death in Israel.
Xinhua/Sipa USA

The stampede unfolded as people flocked from one section of the compound and down the stairs to a sloping metal door —  causing a bottleneck at around 1 a.m. Friday.

Some celebrants fainted or slipped, possibly due to spilled water, setting off a terrifying “human avalanche” and turning the passageway into a death trap, a witness said.

Emergency personnel assisting people after the grandstand collapsed in Meron.
Emergency personnel assisting people after the grandstand collapsed in Meron.
United Hatzalah/AFP via Getty Im

“For some reason, there was sudden pressure at this point, and people stopped. But more people kept coming down,” said Chaim Vertheimer, who was hospitalized after the stampede, to the Hebrew news site Ynet. “People were not breathing. I remember hundreds of people screaming, ‘I can’t breathe!’ ”

Another witness, Dvir Cohen, said a massive group of people were trying to leave at the same time.

Before his death, Menachem Knoblowitz was recently engaged.
Menachem Knoblowitz was one of a few New York natives who were killed in the incident.

“There was a staircase where the first people tripped, and everyone just trampled them. I was in the second row of people,” he said. “People trampled on me, hundreds of them.”

For more than a decade, there have been warnings that the site isn’t able to handle the huge masses that flock there for festivities.

Reports indicated at least 100,000 worshipers were in attendance.
AFP via Getty Images

 In 2008 and 2011, a state comptroller cautioned about the potential disaster at the site, the Times reported.

“We will conduct a thorough, serious and deep investigation to ensure such a disaster does not happen again,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday morning.

Personal belongings of Jewish pilgrims were piled up at the scene of a stampede.
Personal belongings of Jewish pilgrims were piled up at the scene of a stampede.
AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, families rushed to bury their dead before the beginning of Sabbath at sundown Friday. Israelis across the country also lined up to donate blood to help the injured.

Israeli authorities had placed no restrictions on the number of attendees at the festivities, despite COVID-19 risks.

Rescue and medical personnel are seen next to covered dead bodies on Mount Meron.
Rescue and medical personnel are seen next to covered dead bodies on Mount Meron.
Ishay Yerushalmi/Behadrei Haredim/Reuters

A Israeli police official who oversaw the security arrangements for the celebration took partial responsibility for the disaster Friday morning.

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