Atlanta’s Israeli-Jewish community came together May 2 on the front lawn of the Chabad Israeli Center to remember the calamity that took place on Mount Meron during a recent Lag B’Omer celebration.
On April 30, at least 45 people died and more than 150 were injured in a stampede at a mass gathering to celebrate the holiday. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had declared May 2 a day of national mourning.
The Dunwoody memorial event was orchestrated by the Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta and Rabbi Mendy Gurary, senior rabbi of the Chabad Israeli Center.
The service began with opening remarks from Gurary as he read the names of the victims. It continued with Anat Sultan-Dadon, consul general of Israel to the Southeast, offering condolences, speedy recovery and gratitude for Jews unifying worldwide and Torah lessons from Rabbi Yossi New, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Tefillah.
Gurary voiced his support, strength and prayers for those who died, lost family members, friends and neighbors, “whose lives are forever changed.” He expressed the communal grief over the travesty and hopes that such an incident will never happen again. “Why is this happening to the Jews in the moment of celebration?” Gurary asked. He explained, “…this is from G-d. We do not and cannot understand G-d’s ways.”
The CIC rabbi continued with prayers for those currently hospitalized and fighting for their lives and welcomed Sultan-Dadon to share her thoughts. “A national day of mourning was declared and observed in Israel in the wake of one of the worst civilian tragedies the country has known.” She said that across the nation and in Israel, flags were lowered to half-mast to honor those killed in the deadly stampede.
“Sadly the Jewish diaspora is with us also in mourning, some members of their own community who have perished in what was meant to be a celebration [resulted] in a disaster.” She thanked the community for its support and finished with a strong message. “As always, our strength is in our unity.”
Rabbi New said, “Obviously, there are no words or explanations.” He continued with a story about one of the Israelis who lost his life and offered prayers for him and his family along with others who are recovering.
The fatal stampede in Israel occurred during the celebration of Lag B’Omer, which marks the 33rd day of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot. It traditionally includes ritual prayers and lighting of a bonfire, an annual tradition at the foot of Mount Meron by the graves of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar and other great rabbis.
The Atlanta memorial included a poster of those who died along with a table filled with candles to light in their memory. Gurary ended the program by reciting the “Mi Sheberach” for speedy recovery for those injured. And Alex Gandler, deputy consul general read prayers with the rest of the community followed by the song, “Ani Ma’amin,” which means I Believe.