(CNN) – At least 38 people have been killed and around 50 injured in an accident at a mass religious rally on Mount Meron in northern Israel, according to emergency responders.
Participants celebrated the religious holiday of Lag B’Omer, the largest annual public event in Israel. It commemorates the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century Mishnaic sage whose book “The Zohar” is the foundation of Jewish mysticism.
“This is one of the worst tragedies I have ever experienced. I haven’t seen anything like it since I entered the field of emergency medicine in 2000,” said Lazar Hyman, vice-president. president of the volunteer emergency organization United Hatzalah, who was at the scene.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Jews – many of them ultra-Orthodox – flock to the site of Bar Yochai’s tomb on Mount Meron, which is in the Upper Galilee region of northern Israel, about 40 kilometers northeast of the city. from Haifa.
The rally was made possible this year by Israel’s recent decline in daily Covid cases. Israel has fully vaccinated over 58% of its population, making it one of the most vaccinated populations in the world.
The country’s health ministry has urged people not to attend the festival, warning that the pandemic is still not over. Still, there has been significant pressure on the authorities to allow it to move forward – especially since it was canceled last year.
Zaki Heller, spokesperson for the ZAKA emergency service, refuted initial reports that the staging had collapsed at the site, saying the tragedy was the result of overcrowding.
The injured were taken to Ziv Hospital in Safed, Rambam Hospital in Haifa and Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, according to United Hatzalah CEO Eli Pollack. Six helicopters were used to transfer the injured.