At least 45 people were dead and more than 150 injured after the celebration of Lag B’Omer, a holiday that commemorates a 2nd-century Jewish uprising against Roman rule. Some participants in the event in the Upper Galilee region were American students studying at Israeli yeshivas.
At New York’s Young Israel Beth El of Borough Park, Rabbi Moshe Snow said that area synagogues will probably be reciting songs in memory of the victims. “We all do feel the pain, the loss,” said Snow, 77. He said that Jewish people “sort of stick together all over the world.”
But “our nature is that even though we’re facing this terrible ordeal and tragedy of national import, nevertheless we do everything we can to continue forward,” he added. “We do not give up.”
Here’s what we know about the Americans killed:
Yosef Amram Tauber
Rabbi Menachem Weissmandel of Congregation Toras Chemed Nitra in Monsey, N.Y., said his 19-year-old great-nephew, Yosef Amram Tauber, was a Monsey resident who went to Israel four weeks ago to study the Talmud at a yeshiva there.
It is typical for young men in Monsey’s Orthodox community to go to Israel around age 19 for school, Weissmandel said. Tauber was particularly focused on his studies and would sometimes conduct synagogue services, he said.
“He was very smart, very charismatic, a lot of fun, good company to be in,” Weissmandel said. “He was an extremely pleasant boy.”
Weissmandel said that Tauber comes from a large family and that his father was a highly respected rabbi in the community before he died suddenly from a health condition two years ago. Tauber’s mother, Weissmandel’s niece, is still coming to grips with the news of her son’s death, he said.
“It’s too fresh,” Weissmandel said. “People are still grasping what’s happening. It takes time for people to realize what happened.”
Weissmandel said he has a 21-year-old son studying in Israel who was on his way to the celebration, but his bus was turned around about a half-hour away after news of the stampede.
“It’s a tragedy for the whole Orthodox Jewish community all over the world,” he said.
The Monsey community has been hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic, Weissmandel said. When the outbreak began, Weissmandel said, Tauber would bring food to people and make telephone calls to others who were isolated.
Shragee Gestetner, 33, had six children and lived in Monsey, where he was known as a popular musician, according to Yossi Gestetner, a distant cousin.
Yossi Gestetner, of Rockland County, N.Y., said his cousin was seen as a “chilled-out guy” who could help people relax with his music. Shragee Gestetner sang with popular Hasidic composer Yossi Green, his cousin said.
“I don’t think you get to sing with Yossi Green unless you’ve been around the block,” Yossi Gestetner said. “He doesn’t have time for clowns.”
Rockland County’s Hasidic community is close-knit, and families often have around 10 children. When someone dies, the effects quickly ripple through the community.
During Lag B’Omer, schools and synagogues usually have bonfires, music and meals. On Thursday evening, many canceled their bonfires, skipped the music or played somber music instead of jubilant songs, Yossi Gestetner said.
“The reaction was swift. Anytime there’s tragedy, it’s felt hard and wide and deep,” he said. “At the civilian level, this certainly counts as one of the worst death tolls since World War II.”
Eliezer Joseph, 26, was a father of four who lived in Monroe, N.Y. He traveled to Israel specifically for the Lag B’Omer celebration, said Samuel Joseph, who is not related to Eliezer Joseph but identified himself as a friend of the family.
“He was a scholar,” Samuel Joseph said. “He was a great, young guy with a very bright future in front of him, and it’s a terrible tragedy.”
Donny Morris, 19, from Bergenfield, N.J., was studying in Israel during a gap year between high school and college, said his uncle, Rabbi Yechiel Morris. He graduated from Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan, an Orthodox Jewish day school, according to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
“We are all shocked and devastated,” said Yechiel Morris, of Young Israel of Southfield in Southfield, Mich. “In much pain. There are no words.”
Menachem Knoblowitz had just gotten engaged. He was from Brooklyn and in his early 20s, said a brother of Knoblowitz’s fiancee, Hindy Rozmarin. The wedding was set to take place in five months — “a big one.”
The brother, a resident of Lakewood, N.J., spoke on the condition that The Washington Post not publish his name, citing privacy concerns.
He called Knoblowitz a kindhearted “golden boy” so beloved that “even God wanted to sit next to him.” Knoblowitz was studying in Israel and planning to return to the United States in just a few weeks, he said.
“As Jewish people,” the brother said, “we know that that’s God’s way, and we can’t understand God’s way.”
But there is “no recovering” from what happened, he said, mourning the bright future that seemed to stretch out ahead of Knoblowitz and his sister. “They planned so much for life. They just wanted to build a nice little home. And everything is gone in two seconds.”
“I just can’t describe the pain and screaming … the pain that was going on in the house here,” he said.