Detroit Jewish community joins virtual ceremony to mourn 45 dead in Israel stampede


Yechiel Morris said he has never felt such deep pain and love as he mourned the death of his 19-year-old nephew on Sunday, one of 45 people killed in a rush to a religious festival in northern Israel last week.

“This has been a very painful few days for my family. My nephew was buried literally an hour ago,” said Morris, Rabbi of Young Israel of Southfield, on Sunday during an online vigil for a day of mourning Israel for deaths after tens of thousands of mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered on Mount Meron, one of the holiest places in Israel.

“I could watch. There were 50,000 people from all over the world watching live.”

Ersey was among the dead, the Washington Post reported. Morris’ nephew, Doniel Morris of Bergenfield, New Jersey, was in Israel for the college year, he said. He told his grandmother that he was planning to climb Mount Meron.

“Why did he go?” Morris said emotionally. “He left because my nephew and others were looking for spiritual meaning. My nephew loved to pray. He loved studying the Torah. He loved engaging in kind actions.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men carry the body of Yossi Kohn, 21, from Cleveland, Ohio, who was buried in Jerusalem on Sunday during the Lag BaOmer celebrations on Mt. Meron, northern Israel.  It was one of the deadliest civil disasters in the country.

Morris asked the audience to imitate his nephew.

“Anyway, that you can bond with our people through kind actions. Perhaps you will study the Torah for a few minutes every day. Go to the temple. Go to the synagogue. To virtually pray in person. My nephew did lived, “said Morris.

The 30-minute event was organized by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and featured several religious and community speakers.

Rabbi Daniel Schwartz of the Shir Shalom Temple said during the vigil that Detroit stands as a community, uniting with friends and family on National Mourning Day.

“We are here to pray for a speedy and full recovery for the injured, and to thank the myriad of professionals and volunteers who rush to the Mount Meron scene to help,” said Schwartz. “Today Detroit stands as a community, so we can say we are with you.”

The onslaught began when, according to witnesses and video footage, large numbers of people pushed into a narrow tunnel-shaped passageway during the event. Towards the end of the sidewalk, people fell on top of each other as they descended slippery metal stairs, witnesses said.

Israeli youths light candles to commemorate the 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews who were killed in a rush to a religious festival on Friday during a vigil in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Sunday, May 2, 2021.  The rush early Friday had interrupted the annual festival of Lag BaOmer on Israel's Mount Meron.  The festival had drawn around 100,000 people into the largest gathering.  It was one of the deadliest civil disasters in the country.

The media estimated that the festival drew a crowd of around 100,000 people.

One of the injured, Avraham Leibe, told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that a swarm of people trying to descend the mountain on a slippery metal slope followed by stairs caused “general chaos”.

Video footage showed large numbers of people being crushed in the tunnel. Initial reports and witnesses said police barriers prevented people from getting off quickly.

The onslaught came during the festivities of Lag BaOmer, the first mass religious gathering legally held since Israel lifted almost all restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Since the start of one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns at the end of last year, cases have decreased.

Lag BaOmer in northern Israel draws tens of thousands of people each year to honor Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second-century sage and mystic believed to be buried there. Large crowds traditionally light campfires, pray and dance as part of the celebrations.

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The Associated Press helped.


Dusty Kennedy