With the entire Jewish community reeling from the incredible tragedy that occurred at Meron a couple of days ago, I wanted to share a few a thoughts and reflections- which I hope may give expression to some of the emotions that many are feeling during these tragic days.
As I reflect on the events that unfolded on Thursday night, there are a few emotions that come up for me that I wanted to highlight.
The first emotion is that of complete sadness. This is nothing short of a horrific calamity, and during these first moments, our initial response should be nothing more than to share in the pain and horror of the relatives of those who perished, as well as daven for those who in need of a refuah sheleima. We have to fight against the natural inclination to try to explain what happened, to suggest reasons or assign blame for what occurred. In the weeks to come, there will be much discussion/debate regarding the tradition to go to Meron in general, as well as the overall safety challenges that existed on location- and even then, we must leave those discussions to the national and religious leaders to analyze and discuss. Either way, now is simply not the time for that. None of us will ever know why this occurred, and it is not our prerogative to try to come up with explanations. Our task right now is to simply share in the mourning with the families, and to be there in solidarity with them. To cry with them, and to help them feel the figurative embrace of Am Yisrael.
The second emotion that I am feeling is guilt. I have been to the Meron celebrations a number of times over the past bunch of years- a couple of times at night, and a couple of times during the day of Lag Baomer. Over the course of those visits, I witnessed numerous circumstances and situations on the mountain that appeared to me to be unsafe. The sheer number of people and the lack of modern infrastructure created a dangerous combination- and yet my reaction each time was “well, this is how it is in Meron”. There was a certain acceptance of things being the way they are- it’s the way they have always been, and it always just seems to work out. I imagine that this is how many in a similar situation reacted- there was no internal push to fix or make things better. I am not trying to assign blame to anyone at all- but simply to lament the fact that so many of us were witness to the potential danger, and yet we accepted the reality with a shoulder shrug. For that I feel a deep sense of guilt- and a resolve to be better about this in the future. There are many other situations or circumstances, especially in Israel, where safety is not necessarily the # 1 priority of concerns- and we should all resolve better to try and enact change in any way that we can.
Finally, the third emotion that I am feeling is one of pride. Pride at how the Jewish community has reacted, and galvanized itself to provide support for the relatives of those who perished and for those injured. It has been inspiring to read the accounts of the numerous volunteer medics who rushed to Meron to help, and the many who have dedicated the past few days to helping out in numerous ways. Unfortunately, this is when we are at our best.
But pride in another way as well. As I reflected on this tragedy, I remembered a different time when I had heard about someone being trampled by crowds- many years ago on Black Friday in the US, when a Walmart worker was trampled by crowds running all over each other to get the latest sales. The contrast between the two events is stark. Regardless of the specific circumstances that may have caused this tragedy itself, those killed and injured in Meron were there out of a desire to connect spiritually and to come closer to Hashem- whereas the Walmart disaster was borne out a selfish desire by the masses to get the latest gadget at a discounted price before anyone else. אנו רצים והם רצים. We all wish that this horrific disaster had not occurred- but there is a certain pride in knowing what these Kedoshim were striving for.
Three emotions- sadness, guilt, pride- sometimes conflicting emotions, but that’s the nature of human emotions and the human experience.
Davening and hoping that Hashem should give a refuah to all those that are injured, a nechama to all those mourning loved ones. May we all hug our loved ones just a bit closer today, and may we move forward from this tragedy in a meaningful and productive way.