At least six U.S. citizens are among the 45 victims of the deadly stampede during Lag Ba'omer festivities in northern Israel overnight Thursday.
In addition, one Brit, one Canadian and one Argentine were also among the fatalities.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed to Haaretz that "multiple U.S. citizens were among the casualties."
They included 19-year-old yeshiva students from northern New Jersey and Monsey, New York, as well as a 13-year-old boy who had moved to Israel with his family.
The New Jersey student, Nachman Doniel Morris, had flown to Israel in September to study at Yeshivat Shaalvim in central Israel, after the Israeli government made special provisions to allow yeshiva students to come to the country despite draconian restrictions on travel because of the pandemic.
Yosef Amram Tauber, 19, of Monsey, a student at the Brisk yeshiva, was also killed. A relative said that he left for Israel to attend the yeshiva “for the first time last week” — after the country again relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
“His parents were nervous to send him away,” the relative said, adding that he had never before been to Israel.
Also killed in the stampede was Shraga Gestetner, a 35-year-old singer from Montreal, but most recently lived in Monsey. Married and the father of five, he was in Israel visiting relatives. His mother, Shoshana, was reportedly raised in Bnei Brak.
Other American victims who were identified included Menachem Knoblowitz, 22, of Borough Park, Brooklyn; Rabbi Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, 26, of Kiryas Joel, New York; Yossi Cohen, 21 of Cleveland, Ohio, and Elazar Yitzchak Koltai, 13, who had lived in Passaic, New Jersey, before moving to Jerusalem with his family.
According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, at least one American citizen is being treated for injuries in an Israeli hospital.
The Foreign Ministry has been in touch with the injured man’s family, and plans are underway for them to fly to Israel. The ministry could not provide any details about his condition and could not say which hospital he was being treated at.
Rep. 'heartbroken' over constituents' deaths
The White House released a statement Friday saying that the United States was working to confirm reports of U.S. citizens killed or wounded in the incident at Mount Meron, and that the U.S. Embassy and the State Department were reaching out to support any U.S. citizen or family member affected by the event.
"We offer our sincerest condolences to the families and loved ones of those injured and who perished in the tragedy at Mt. Meron during the Lag Ba’omer commemorations," the spokesperson said, reiterating that the U.S. Embassy is working with local authorities to verify whether any additional U.S. citizens were affected, while providing all possible consular support to affected U.S. citizens and their loved ones.
The spokesperson added that the State Department has no further comment "out of respect for the families at this difficult time."
Rep. Mondaire Jones, a Democratic Congressman from New York whose district includes parts of Westchester and Rockland Counties, tweeted that he is "heartbroken" to learn that two of his constituents were among the dead. "My team and I are continuing to monitor the situation and stand ready to assist any [district] residents affected by this tragedy."
The community of Nachman Doniel Morris, an American who was studying in Israel, publicly mourned his loss. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey tweeted on Friday: “It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that Donny Morris, son of Mirlana and Aryeh Morris of Bergenfield, was one of the victims of the tragic event that occurred yesterday in Meron, Israel."
Morris was studying at Yeshiva Sha’alvim, a gap year program run by Masa Israel, which runs hundreds of educational, volunteer and internship programs in Israel for young Jewish adults.
Reached for comment, a spokeswoman for Masa said that participants in programs run by the organization had permission to attend the Mount Meron festivities on their own provided that they had notified their directors in advance “since no warnings had been issued.”
All other Masa participants visiting the site on their own Thursday night have been located, she said. Their program directors had been instructed by Masa to encourage them to call their families and to provide them with psychological support.
Eight gap year programs run by Masa, which receives funding from the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel, sent organized groups of participants to Mount Meron on Thursday night, the spokeswoman confirmed. They included both yeshiva programs for men and seminary programs for women. Almost all these programs cater to high school graduates from North America.
The Masa spokeswoman said that all eight programs had received permission in advance to send their participants to the Lag B’Omer festivities from Moked Teva, a government center that ensures security for hikers and tour groups. They are Yeshivat Sha’arei Meveseret Zion, Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, Yeshivat Ohavei Yerushalayim, Ohr Somayach Institutions, Midreshet Tehillah, Sharfman’s Seminary, Seminar Pninim and the Lev Academic Center.
“The groups were in constant touch with us and returned home safely,” she said.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that “the State of Israel is working to help the families of the victims who have American citizenship to help them get to Israel as soon as possible.”
Ashkenazi also told Blinken that condolence messages sent to Israel from the United States following the disaster have been received “and that this expression of solidarity with the Israeli people is invigorating and warms the hearts of the nation.”
The Israeli Interior Ministry on Friday announced that first-degree relatives of foreign citizens injured at Mount Meron would be given special permission to come to Israel to be with their loved ones, despite coronavirus travel restrictions that are still in place.
Meanwhile, El Al is offering assistance to first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, children and spouses) of those killed if they live in the United States, England, France or any other country from which El Al offers direct flights to Israel. It is offering each family up to two free tickets, with the exception of the port tax.
Families interested in applying for permission were asked to submit a formal request to the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org