Conflagrations over Meron and my family in Israel
May 21, 2021
I watched the tragedy in Meron on Lag Ma’omer in the wee hours on Friday morning on on-site video broadcast on the Internet from Israel. I grieved and agonized over the loss of life and the enormity of the tragedy, and then it hit me: young members of my family in Israel, could be there. Being religious and very observant, they would go to the place considered to be the grave of the second century Tana, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, for spiritual enrichment and prayers.
It was very early for a telephone call, so I sent a message to my brother asking about the wellbeing of his grown children and their children — my nephews and nieces. He calmed me down, saying that his older son came there and entered the site after it was cleared, prayed and made the customary requests for the health of the family.
But I was still very concerned. I was then told that actually, not only Shloimi was there but also Israel Meir and Refael, but I was assured that every one was safe.
Then last night I got a detailed letter from my niece, Hanni, the weekly correspondence that we have had for years before Shabbat. Hanni, an educator, psychologist and writer, spent the Shabbat in an educaitional retreat with her class of teenage girls. She wrote about the sadness and sorrow over the great tragedy. Her children have friends who sit Shivah in mourning. The apprehension was alarming.
Then she began to reveal some of the information about what happened with some of her children. Ruti and her husband, the newly wed children were there. They arrived immediately after the news had spread and left. Also Shishon, her 19-year-old son, a Yeshivah student, was there and witnessed many revivals next to him. It took many hours before they learned that they were all well and safe. The cellular phone systems collapsed. Many of her female students were there. In summary, she wrote, it was a terrible disaster that affected a wide segment of the population.
I wrote back: You deserve to say a double “Hagomel” (a thankful prayer for being saved from a dangerous experience) on Shabbat. We witnessed the dreadful pictures in real time at the site and we were very worried, knowing your inclinations and habits. We grieved over the tragedy, but only now, having received the description of your own terrible experience could we better feel your pain and realize the great danger the members of our family were in. We feel doubly the pain you went through over what happened and, I hesitate to say, over what … could have happened. You should remember the biblical injunction, “Venishmartem lenafshotechem” (You should keep yourselves safe), even though you consider yourselves immune from danger, under the notion that persons on a Mitzvah mission cannot face harm …
This Shabbat may be called “Shabbat Nahamu,” Shabbat of condolences, when we read the Haftarah on the Sabbath next to Tish’ah Be’av, the mourning for the destruction of the Temple.