JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of worshipers flocked to a Jewish holy site in northern Israel to light bonfires, pray and dance under a heavy police presence on Wednesday, a year after a stampede that left 45 people dead.
This year’s Lag BaOmer holiday festivities at Mount Meron seemed orderly, but were overshadowed by the deaths of last year, the greatest civil disaster in the history of the country. A prominent rabbi lit 45 candles in memory of those who perished.
Highways leading to the mountain were blocked hours before the celebrations.
An independent commission of inquiry launched after last year’s disaster examined major safety lapses and overcrowding at the mountaintop site and recommended limiting attendance and revamping protocols and infrastructure. security.
Attendance this year was limited to 16,000 people who had to book their tickets in advance. Police said around 8,000 officers would be stationed around the site to maintain order.
The site is believed to be the burial place of a prominent 2nd-century rabbi and has attracted Jewish pilgrims and devotees for centuries. The spring festival was marked by traditional bonfires, singing and dancing.
On Tuesday, police said they stopped a minibus near Mount Meron carrying members of a radical ultra-Orthodox sect in possession of box cutters, wire cutters, spray paint and other tools officers suspected to be intended to vandalize the infrastructures of the site. At least three people were arrested.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday before the start of the sunset holiday that “the Israeli government has made a significant investment in order to enable broad and safe participation.”
“I ask the public to act within the published guidelines and arrive with a ticket so that we can hold the festival safely,” he said.