Teenager Among Americans Killed in Crush
JERUSALEM – A New Jersey teenager was among Americans who died in Friday’s stampede at a religious holiday in Israel, the country’s chief rabbi’s office confirmed on Sunday.
American Donny Morris, 19, has been named as one of 45 people who died in the crush, along with Eliezer Zvi Yuzef, 26, and Menachem Knoblowitz, 22, both of New York City. Yousef Amran Tauber and Yousef Kahn were also killed. Their age and original condition have not been disclosed.
Jonathan Shrier, the US charge d’affaires in Israel, confirmed on Twitter that six citizens and two lawful permanent residents were among the dead.
Morris had studied in Israel, Rabbi Yechiel Morris, his uncle, told several media on Saturday, confirming the death of his nephew.
As Israel observed a day of mourning on Sunday, flags across the country were reduced to half staff to honor the dead in what has been one of the country’s worst civil disasters.
In accordance with Jewish tradition, the funeral was held with the least possible delay. More than 20 victims were buried overnight after official identification was made.
The deadly stampede occurred during the Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mount Meron in northern Israel, near the grave of a former Jewish mystic, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Each year, tens of thousands of people – mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews – flock to the area to celebrate the rabbi and light bonfires as part of the celebrations. The event was the first mass religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted nearly all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
It is not known what caused the stampede. The video showed people being pulled back and forth by the momentum of the tight crowd. Other images showed a mass of people, mostly men dressed in black, sprawling through a narrow open passage.
Questions were raised as to whether the government and police were reluctant to limit the crowd so as not to anger influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians.
The Justice Department said investigators would look into whether there had been police misconduct.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the incident “one of the worst disasters to hit the State of Israel,” also promised an investigation.
Netanyahu visited Haifa‘s Rambam Hospital on Sunday, praising staff for saving lives.
“One of the parents told me the sentence that sums it all up: ‘Here it is revealed that the people of Israel have only one heart,” “Netanyahu said in a statement. “Our hearts are with the injured and we all hope and pray for their full recovery.”
Pope Francis said in his address in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on Sunday that he will remember the victims and their families in prayer.
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“With sadness, I express my closeness to the people of Israel for the incident last Friday on Mount Meron which left 45 people dead and numerous injuries,” Francis said.
President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu on Friday and offered US help.
“The loss of life among the faithful practicing their faith is heartbreaking,” Biden said in a statement.
Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem and Yuliya Talmazan from London.