I live in New York, but my heart is in Meron.
What a difficult week it’s been for the Jewish people — 45 of our brothers killed in a horrific accident on one of the most joyous days of the year.
Lag BaOmer is a day of miracles, and the holiest place to be on that day is at the gravesite of the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai — renowned miracle worker and author of the Zohar. All year people wait to pray there, and each year miraculous outcomes abound.
So for 45 of our holy brothers to die there, on Lag BaOmer, in the worst peacetime tragedy in modern Israeli history, is simply unfathomable.
With social media and our world of instant connectivity, I found myself reading about and crying with each of the families.
I paid a shiva call with Avigdor Chayut, who took his son and his son’s friend to Meron. Both children died. I watched as Avigdor struggled to speak through his grief, as he tried to comfort the father of the other child, Dovid Levi.
I watched Meir Nachman Elchadad share his fear, waiting to hear from his two sons, but tragically both died. A shiva visitor begged for forgiveness, with tears in his eyes, because during the crush he found himself standing on one of the boys, and although he tried to pick him up, he was already dead.
I cried with the Hatzalah volunteers who returned to the site of the tragedy six days later to support one another. I watched them sit in a circle and relive the trauma, discussing the terror of valiantly fighting to save one life and another and another. I cried with them about the lives they couldn’t save and the spur-of-the-moment decisions they had to make, the things they saw that will no doubt haunt them for the rest of their lives.
No father should ever have to eulogize his son. No mother should ever have to cry for her children. And yet here we are.
The 45 families are our families. This is a collective loss. It’s our family that was hit so badly! And we feel their pain. Their pain is our pain, their struggle is our struggle. We are all one nation, united in joy and in sorrow.
I have been privileged to be in Meron five times on Lag BaOmer, and the experience has been exhilarating each time. Thousands of Jews, from all walks of life, coming together in a display of unfettered unity. Jews of every denomination, every political affiliation … in Meron it makes no difference. As we dance by the fire, all of that melts away.
In fact, walk into our Chabad center at any time and you will see that we welcome and love Jews from all walks of life. Yes, sometimes we argue, but when it comes down to it we are one deeply connected family.
So what do we do now? How can we take our sorrow, our deep ache, and turn it into purposeful action? Please choose a mitzvah – any mitzvah – to commit to in their memory.
Give any denomination of 45 to charity in the merit of our 45 holy brothers. Depending on your means, that may be $45, $450 or $4500.
Women, please spend at least 45 seconds this Friday evening lighting Shabbat candles. Take the time to have in mind the 45 souls we lost.
Most of all, we have to do everything in our power to bring about the final redemption. When I watched the Hatzalah volunteers put their hands around each other’s shoulders and sing about their perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach, I was deeply moved. For only when Moshiach comes, will we be truly comforted by G-d. May it happen immediately.