The catastrophe at Mount Meron in northern Israel took place during the annual hillula – a celebration marking the anniversary of the death of a famous sage – for Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai. Also known as the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon is believed to have died on the Jewish holiday of Lag b’Omer.
The event typically draws tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of visitors to his gravesite site, the vast majority of them ultra-Orthodox. It is the biggest religious festival of the year in Israel, as pilgrims sing, dance and feast around bonfires on Mount Meron throughout night. It is also common in the Orthodox community for parents of boys who have reached the age of three to bring them to the tomb for their first haircut on Lag b’Omer.