Families of Israel's Lag Ba'omer Stampede Victims Demand State Inquiry

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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Mourners at the funeral of yeshiva student Daniel Ambon, this week.
Mourners at the funeral of yeshiva student Daniel Ambon, this week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Many of the families of the 45 victims of the stampede at Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s tomb on Mount Meron last week are demanding the establishment of a state inquiry committee that would question those responsible, so that they don’t feel their loved ones died for nothing.

Haaretz has also learned that some of the families are trying to organize a lawsuit against the responsible parties. One of the initiators is Moshe Steinmetz, a cousin of Dov Steinmetz, a Canadian citizen who was studying in the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem and was killed at the tomb.

Why Bibi and his Haredi cronies won’t allow a meaningful probe into Israel’s deadly stampede. LISTEN

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“We are planning to have a meeting of all the families,” Steinmetz said. “We’ve contacted many of them and they’ve agreed.” The meeting is expected to take place in a week and a half, and will likely include relatives of the foreign citizens who were killed. “We aren’t sure that we’ll want the media there,” he said.

While the meeting is meant for the families to console and support one another, it will also raise the possibility of banding together to sue. Steinmetz, who was at Meron when the disaster occurred, decided to tackle the organizational aspect because “I saw what happened up close. I was there, and so I decided to take up the gauntlet.”

He said that most of the families are eager for a state inquiry committee to conduct an in-depth investigation. “I’ve spoken to almost all the families,” he said. “We are not accusing anyone. We as Haredim believe it was the hand of God, and everyone who was taken was plucked specifically. Those are Heaven’s accounts and we don’t understand them. Nevertheless, it’s clear that we don’t want things like this to repeat themselves.”

Steinmetz said the families are well aware of the difference between a state inquiry committee and an examination by the state comptroller. “I don’t want to elaborate now, but the direction is toward an inquiry committee,” he said.

Shimon Yisrael Elhadad, the brother of victims Yosef David and Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, made similar remarks. “The discussion about a serious investigation of the event, so that things shouldn’t be covered up, isn’t really taking place now, but within us we all know that there’s a demand like this – to hold those responsible accountable, to investigate what happened there, how things could have been done differently,” he said. He said there had to be a clear division between the decree from Heaven and the efforts by those responsible to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

The statements by some politicians trying to evade responsibility or blame angered him. “We want there to be an inquiry committee that will investigate what every person’s role was in the disaster,” he said. “The things we’re hearing, how everyone is avoiding responsibility and blame for the event, are delusional.” He described the examination by the state comptroller as “a joke. We want a state committee of inquiry.”

Despite the fighting words, it isn’t clear how quickly a strategy can be formulated since the families are still sitting shivah and will be preoccupied with mourning for the next several weeks. “We don’t have time to deal with this right now,” Elhadad said.

All week, thousands of people have been coming to console the mourning families; many visitors don’t know the families but felt the need to express their support. Social media sites are full of requests for financial assistance for the families, some of whom lost their primary breadwinner.

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