Two Montrealers among those who died in religious festival stampede in Israel
MONTREAL -- At least two Montrealers are among the 45 killed in a stampede at a religious festival on Israel’s Mount Meron Friday.
Members of the local Jewish community confirmed that the two victims were singer Shraga Gestetner and 21-year-old Dovi Steinmetz.
"Shraga Gestetner was a great family man, a great community man, a very talented singer," said Mayer Feig, from Montreal's Orthodox Jewish community. Feig said his community has lost a talented and dedicated man in Gestetner.
Montrealer Shraga Gestetner was among the victims in the stampede in Israel. (Photo: ArutzShevaTV)
Gestetner composed a number of albums before stopping at the height of his career to help the vulnerable in the Orthodox community, Feig added.
"He opened his house to a lot of people that were having personal issues in life, and he became like their father," said Feig. "So somebody that had a talent and direction in life, chose to just switch gears and be there for the most vulnerable our community that just says, tells us what kind of person he was."
The 'Israel in Montreal' Facebook page posted that Gestetner died in the crush of people as tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish people tried to get through a narrow tunnel-like passage around 1 a.m. after much of the celebrations.
Montreal opposition councillor Lionel Perez posted his condolences for Gestetner, from Outremont, as well as for Steinmetz from NDG-CDN on his Twitter page. Perez knew Steinmetz personally and spoke about the young man who grew up in Cote-des-Neiges.
"He was 21 years old, Dovi Steinmetz, same age as my son," Perez told CTV News. "They grew up together. [He was] somebody who was so social, outgoing, loving, friendly with everyone, truly representative of the family of his parents, Shloimie and Faigy, and his many siblings. It's truly a tragedy that hits not only the family, the neighbourhood, but the entire community."
Steinmetz was studying at the Mir Yeshiva in Israel, Perez said.
"Like many people at 21 years old, they were working on enjoying their studies and moving forward," Perez said. "He was somebody that was really liked by all. He was friends by all. All his friends and even people in the neighbourhood if they attended different schools found him friendly. It's really indicative of his siblings and his parents, and the whole family."
Mayor Valerie Plante also posted her condolences on Twitter.
"We are saddened to learn of the death of two Montrealers at Mont Meron, Israel," wrote Mayor Valerie Plante. "We are wholeheartedly with the Jewish community of Montreal. Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims."
David Levy, consul general of Israel in Montreal for Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces, said the consulate will step in to help families of the victims if necessary.
“The community here is very close, I believe that the families are being supported. Of course if any members of the family would need any assistance to travel to Israel, then the consulate would be providing them with the necessary permits,” he said, calling it a “very, very sad moment for the history” of Israel.
“I do not know them, but I I'm planning to visit them near future, to make sure that if there's any kind of assistance that the consulate would be able to provide were there for them.”
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau also voiced his condolences Friday.
"On behalf of all Canadians, I wish to express my deepest sympathies to the people of Israel and Jewish community in Canada," he said in a public statement. "I extend my sincere condolences to the families who lost loved ones and wish those who were injured a quick recovery."
He added that Canadian citizens in Isreal can get emergency consular assistance by calling the Canadian embassy at 972 3 636 3300, Global Affairs Canada’s Emergency Watch and Response Centre at 1 613 996 8885, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIRST LEGAL GATHERING SINCE RESTRICTIONS LIFTED
The stampede happened during the Lag BaOmer celebrations at Mount Meron, and is the first legal mass-religious gathering in Israel since the government lifted restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 health crisis.
Media estimates about 100,000 people, mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended this year's festival.
"Lag BaOmer is a celebration to commemorate a great Talmudic Rabbi called Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai," said Perez.
The festival is held on the anniversary of the rabbi's death and is held at his gravesite, Perez explained.
"For thousands of years people have been doing this," he said. "It's also a time that is an end of a mourning period from Passover into Lag BaOmer, which is about a bit more than a month 33 days."
"It is a pilgrimage that has one of the largest attendances in the Orthodox community worldwide," said Feig, whose son is studying in Israel and was at the festival.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men dance next to a bonfire in Jerusalem, Thursday, April 29, 2021. During the Lag Ba'Omer holiday, marking the end of a plague said to have decimated Jews during Roman times. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Feig did not hear from his son for 45 minutes after learning that the festival had turned tragic.
"I was sitting and dialling my son's phone number, every minute," said Feig. "We're a very believing community, believing in God, and I was just telling myself you know what, whatever happened happened. Whatever did happen was the will of God, then we'll have to accept that what happened. After I reached my son, I was trying to think about the other families that are going through this now and I just turned sick for my stomach, still am, I mean, it's just the horrible horrible situation."
The Israeli health ministry said that four people remain in critical condition and that 150 were also injured as a result of the stampede.