Children and adolescents account for a third of the dead in the stampede of Israel
“Azi,” 13, a “gentle” boy who loved to learn, was one of at least 16 children and adolescents among 45 killed in a stampede during a Jewish pilgrimage to Israel.
Friday’s tragedy on Mount Meron in northern Israel has been called one of the worst peacetime disasters since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948.
It impacted dozens of young people drawn to what has been described as a spiritual festival for most observant Jews.
Azi, whose full name was Elazar Yitzchak Koltai, was buried Saturday night in Jerusalem, according to the mother of a boy in his eighth grade who requested anonymity while discussing the death.
“It was very sad … There was a lot of crying,” she said of the funeral in Jerusalem’s Har Hof neighborhood, where Azi’s small body was wrapped in a prayer shawl in the school hall.
Azi “was kind of a sweet and happy child,” she said. “He loved to learn the Torah,” the sacred book of Judaism.
The disaster was sparked Thursday when tens of thousands of pilgrims invaded the site where Jewish mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is said to be buried.
The event is held annually at Lag BaOmer, a public holiday commemorating the day he is said to have passed away.
It was the largest gathering in Israel since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and attendance far exceeded the Health Ministry’s recommended guidelines of 10,000 people for outdoor gatherings.
Witnesses said that just after midnight on Friday, pilgrims were thronging a narrow passage leading away from the site when people slipped, causing a deadly stampede.
Israel’s Abu Kabir National Center for Forensic Medicine said on Sunday it had identified the 45 people killed in the crash.
The youngest victim was 9 years old. At least 16 of the 45 killed were 19 or younger.
Rabbi Tuvia Rosen of the Nachlei Daas school near Jerusalem told AFP that at the event called “Hilula” – from the Hebrew word for “to praise” – pilgrims celebrate with songs and dances , and donors often provide free food to hundreds of thousands of travelers. .
Although the pilgrimage dates back hundreds of years, Rosen said it has grown significantly as Israel’s population of religious Jews has grown, resulting in an increase in the number of young people.
‘Daddy I’m dying’
Visibly exhausted 36-year-old Avigdor Hayut, who brought two sons to Meron, told Israeli media about the death of his 13-year-old son, Yedidya.
The resident of the predominantly ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak described “a river” of people crowding behind his family as they exited an area where a ceremonial bonfire was lit.
The father and his sons have fallen. Hayut’s 10-year-old son lay next to him and said during the stampede, “Daddy, I’m dying,” Hayut remembers, but in “a visible miracle” he recovered.
Hayut had broken ribs and a broken ankle.
“Yedidya, much to my sadness, did not survive,” Hayut said.
“He was a saint, a holy boy. And if he wanted me to say anything, that’s one thing: we all have common ground. We are Jews.”
Yedidya was buried on Saturday, according to Israeli Kan television.
The deaths included two sets of younger brothers.
All of the victims at the gender separation site were men, although women who attended the festival said they also fought in tight crowds and some lost contact with their children among the masses.
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