JERUSALEM—The grim and mournful task of identifying and laying to rest the victims of the tragedy in Meron on Lag BaOmer in which 45 people died, were completed on Monday. Thousands of mourners attended funerals around the country, with especially large turnouts at the resting places of victims from Argentina, Canada and the United States. Of the 150 adults and children who were injured in the crush, some remained hospitalized in critical or serious condition.

Identification of all 45 victims was completed early on Sunday morning at the Abu Kabir Forensic Center in Tel Aviv. The identification process was halted on Friday, following a ruling by Israel’s chief rabbis that it should not take place on Shabbat. “We are working hard, but you have to understand that this is a complex and sensitive process,” said Dr. Chen Kugel, director of the National Center of Forensic Medicine, as identifications were being concluded, and families, including those in Argentina and North America, were properly notified before the names were made public.

Funerals for 13 victims were held on Friday after their bodies were released for burial. Funerals around the country resumed on Saturday night, and were completed on Sunday and Monday.

A sense of shock and mourning pervaded Jewish homes and synagogues around the world. Psalms were recited for those still hospitalized, and Shabbat sermons and Torah study classes focused on the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, on the response to loss and tragedy.

The tragedy at the annual gathering near the hallowed resting place in Meron of the revered second-century Mishnaic sage, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai was the worst civilian disaster in Israel’s history, and a number of investigations into its causes have been launched.

With a year-round population of approximately 1,000, the tiny mountain town is annually transformed during a 36-hour period into a magnet for hundreds of thousands who flock from across the country and around the world to pray at the hallowed resting place of the Talmudic sage and mystic.

Rabbi Shimon was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the Kabbalah, and is the author of the classic text of Kabbalah, the Zohar. Only hours before his passing in approximately 160 C.E., he informed his students that his soul was soon going to leave its body and celebrate together with its Maker. As such, he requested that instead of being saddened, his students mark the day with great joy and holy rejoicing.

Every year on the anniversary of his passing, 18 Iyar on the Jewish calendar, also known as Lag BaOmer, thousands trek to Rabbi Shimon’s mountaintop grave to pray around the clock, study his mystical teachings and light bonfires—representing the light of Torah Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai brought into the world. Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day of the Omer counting period that begins on the second day of Passover and culminates with the holiday of Shavuot, following day 49.

The events in Meron are marked with festive music and dancing, with dozens of simultaneous events running past dawn and through the day. Leading rabbis light bonfires surrounded by thousands of singing and dancing members of their community on bleachers and scaffoldings.

Israel recently lifted the last outdoor coronavirus restrictions after the drop in cases due to the high vaccination rate in the country. While attendance was lighter this year than past pre-pandemic years, there had been an extra measure of joy this year among the estimated 100,000 worshippers who had gathered at the site, which has long been the second most-visited religious site in Israel after the Kotel (Western Wall).

As a packed crowd of thousands at one of the bonfires was exiting down a narrow and steep metal walkway on a mountainous slope at around 1 a.m. on Friday morning, people began to slip and fall, and others fell onto them, resulting in a panicked crush that some reports say was exacerbated by a police barrier at the bottom of the hill.

A national day of mourning was declared in Israel, and flags were flown at half-staff at Israeli embassies around the world.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin lit 45 candles on Friday in memory of those killed in the tragedy.

“I send my heartfelt thanks to those working without a break since last night to rescue and give medical treatment” to those injured, Rivlin said in a statement. “This is the time to embrace the families, to help all those looking for their loved ones, to take those injured to our hearts. To weep together.”

An updated list of the victims of the Meron tragedy appears here.

This article was reported and published in Jerusalem following the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath.