JERUSALEM—One year after 45 participants lost their lives in the midst of the traditional all-night Lag BaOmer religious celebration near the hallowed resting place of revered second-century sage Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, hundreds of thousands of celebrants are expected to once again flock on Wednesday, May 18 to Meron in northern Israel, for the joyous holiday.

New security and crowd-control measures are in place this year, and the celebration has been reshaped and reorganized to ensure safety.

While memories of last year will be present in every element of the pilgrimage, special emphasis will be placed on celebration and rejoicing in G‑d’s everlasting kindness.

This is couched in the history of the holiday itself, which marks the passing of Rabbi Shimon, author of the Zohar, the foundational text of the Kabbalah.

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 that his students mark the day with great joy and holy rejoicing.

And it is with this example in mind that the celebrations will be held this year, a joyful tribute to those lost on this day.

On Lag BaOmer eve last year, as thousands moved through narrow walkways and alleyways at around 1 a.m., momentum and pressure built-up through a stone passageway and turned into an unstoppable current propelling people down a staircase at the base of the passage where, according to some reports, the surge was met by blockades set up by authorities. With no way to stop the momentum, dozens were tragically trampled.

The word hit just as Lag BaOmer events were starting in North America, throwing a pallor over the joyous atmosphere. Celebrations that then continued in a fashion described in the Zohar itself, with “joy lodged in one side of the heart and trembling in the other.”

An Annual Transformation in Meron

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 foundational text of Kabbalah, the Zohar.

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 that 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.

Last year was not the first time that tragedy marred the celebrations in Meron; in 1911, a roof collapsed on revelers and nine people died, ranging from an 8-year-old to a 65-year-old, but this was one of the worst civil disasters in recent history.

As in times past, the Jewish nation will once again honor those lost and turn inward to find the fortitude and faith to celebrate.

The following are brief obituary profiles and remembrances first published a year ago of the 45 lives that were lost on Lag BaOmer at the resting place of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai in Meron, Israel. Readers are invited to include additional recollections in the response box following this article. May their memories be for a blessing.

Ariel Achdut, 21, of Jerusalem: Sephardic Torah Scholar

Ariel Achdut
Ariel Achdut

By Yaakov Ort

Among the 45 boys and men who lost their lives in the Meron disaster on Lag BaOmer was Ariel Achdut, from the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem, who was among a group of select young Torah scholars at Yesodot HaTorah in Tel Aviv, one of the most respected yeshivas in the Sephardic Jewish world.

According to Behadrei Haredim web site, almost a week after the tragedy his friends still find it difficult to digest the news and speak of him in the past tense, while they tell of events from the last few weeks of his life that are difficult to comprehend.

In order to encourage his fellow students, Ariel would write a phrase every day on a white board that he hung in the middle of their study hall. The last sentence he wrote on it was: "Do not follow the herd. It's crowded there.”

A week before his death, one of the young men in the yeshiva saw someone studying in the beit midrash (study hall) at 2:30 a.m. and when he approached, he saw that it was Ariel. When he asked Ariel why he was there, he replied: "I could not fall asleep so I went up to study."

On Wednesday, April 29, the day before his passing, his mother, Tehi, came to visit him at the yeshiva. She took several buses to meet her son, and it was the first time she had made the trip in the three and a half years that he was studying at the yeshiva, she said at the shiva.

The mother and son went shopping for clothes and ate together and talked for six hours about his progress in his studies and the goals he set for himself for the coming summer months. This was their last conversation. When asked why she came, she told his Rosh Yeshiva that she simply felt an urgent need to meet with her son.

On the train on the way to Meron, he told his friends “I urgently need a Gemara, try to get one for me” and indeed someone brought him a Tractate Kiddushin and he studied it while traveling. He told his friends that he had a great desire to learn from the Gemara itself and “to see the sacred letters with my own eyes.”

The last sentence Ariel wrote on a white board of inspiratioal Torah messages was: “"Do not follow the herd. It's crowded there.”
The last sentence Ariel wrote on a white board of inspiratioal Torah messages was: “"Do not follow the herd. It's crowded there.”

He finished the entire book of Psalms in Meron on the night of the disaster and called to inform his parents about it shortly before his passing.

Ariel's friends see him as a young man of extraordinary depth and inwardness, who loved his yeshiva, his friends and his family, and was kind and gracious to all. According to Behadrei Haredim, “His wisdom enlightened his face, and his rejoicing radiated comfort, encouragement and love to all his acquaintances.”

Rabbi Yisrael Alnakvah, 24, of Ofakim: Torah Scholar and Father of Two

Rabbi Yisrael Alnakvah
Rabbi Yisrael Alnakvah

By Rochel Horowitz

Rabbi Yisrael Alnakvah, a 24-year-old father of two from Ofakim, Israel, was among those tragically killed in the Meron disaster. His brother-in-law, Asher Miara says: “He was always the first to help everyone.”

A native of Beit Shemesh, Alnakah married Rutie Miara, the daughter of Michael and Rachel Miara of Ofakim. After their wedding, the couple settled in Ofakim, and he commuted to the Yesodot HaTorah yeshivah in Tel Aviv.

Miara told Ynet news that Alknakvah was “a good soul, a generous heart. He was always the first to help everyone and did it with kindness and joy. He saw the good in everyone.”

With his gentle and good hearted persona, “Yisrael appreciated nature and especially enjoyed caring for animals and flowers,” his brother in law continued. “I wish we could learn from his ways and only see the good in one another.”

Esther Natan, Rutie’s cousin said: “When I think of Rutie, who was left alone without her dear husband, my heart feels torn with pain. A difficult struggle awaits her.”

The funeral of Yisrael Alnakvah took place on Saturday night in the Beit Shemesh cemetery. In addition to his wife, he leaves two children: Nathaniel, two-and-a-half years old, and Yosef-Gad, four months old.

Avrohom Daniel Ambon, 21, of Argentina: Torah Student in Jerusalem

Avrohom Daniel Ambon
Avrohom Daniel Ambon

By Rochel Horowitz

Avrohom Daniel Ambon, a 21-year-old Argentinian student at Heichal Yitzchak Yeshiva, was killed in the Meron tragedy. His strong desire to learn in the Holy Land brought him to Yeshivat Heichal Yitzchak in Kiryat Yuval, Jerusalem.

"When G‑d has to take a precious soul, it is difficult for us, it is difficult for the whole world,” Yisrael Landau, a rabbi at the yeshivah said. “Avraham had a sense of gentleness, modesty and humility.”

Ambon's friends spoke of a studious and unassuming young man who was dedicated to his learning and pleasant towards everyone. “He arrived three years ago. Because he was an immigrant, he was on the quieter side,” one of his yeshivah friends told Israel Davar news station.

Ambon’s friend, Shaya Toledano, said: “He never spoke a bad word to anyone and didn’t look for honor or respect. He did everything happily and with a smile.”

One of the yeshivah rabbis, Rabbi Daniel Cohen, said: “We will no longer see his smiling face. We will no longer hear his sweet ‘hello,’ and ‘good morning.’ This was his home for four years and it’s hard to conceive that he is no longer with us.”

Ambon’s father, Rabbi David Ambon of Buenos Aires, Argentina, spoke at the funeral: “When a son loses his father or mother, it is painful, but that is the ‘way of the world.’ When a father loses his son, the pain is unbearable. He loved the yeshivah; he was so comfortable and happy here.”

Uri Kistenmacher, another young student from Argentina, survived the disaster and told Live Radio: “We were eight friends. At one point, I got pushed and squeezed. I was unable to breathe but I managed to get out. When we left, I found only one of my friends and realized that the rest were missing. Later, they were found; one friend with a broken leg, and the rest with bruises.”

Last Friday, when the disaster became known at the yeshivah, they began trying to reach Ambon by phone for hours. “The whole yeshivah was busy searching,” says his friend. “His phone rang, but there was no answer. On Friday, a teacher gathered the boys and told us the bitter news. Shock and utter disbelief washed over us.”

The Foreign Ministry and the Argentinian Embassy in Israel contacted his parents to inform them of the tragedy. Relatives living in Israel came to the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine and identified his body.

Rabbi Eliyahu Hamra, president of the Jewish Federation in Argentina and secretary of the Chief Rabbinate, accompanied the family to the airport in Buenos Aires. He said: “We share in the family’s grief at this sad moment. This young man was taken away too soon.”

Ambon’s funeral was the last of the 45 ceremonies and took place at the Heichal Yitzchak Yeshiva in Jerusalem on Monday morning. His parents arrived in Israel early Monday morning to attend the funeral, which was delayed to allow for the arrival of relatives from overseas.

Moshe Ben Shalom, 20, of Bnei Brak: Student at Ponovezh Yeshivah

Moshe Ben Shalom
Moshe Ben Shalom

By Rochel Horowitz

Moshe Ben Shalom, a 21-year-old yeshivah student at the Ponovezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak was among those who died in the tragic Meron disaster. Jews from across Israel mourned his passing at a cemetery in Petach Tikvah, Israel, on April 30.

Chananel Levy, Ben Shalom’s uncle, spoke about the special character of his nephew: “During his short life, he accomplished what a man of 80 years old couldn’t attain—in prayer, in the quality of his interpersonal relationships and in his Torah learning. He loved to learn and he left behind many notebooks filled with his own insights and explanations.”

An Israeli resident who attended the shivah told “I heard that he was an incredible young man who had tremendous respect for others. He was refined, and generous—a really special soul. The entire time that I was there, stories flowed freely about his generosity and kindness.”

Rabbi Moshe Bergman, 24, of Great Britain: Studied at Mir Yeshivah in Jerusalem

Rabbi Moshe Bergman
Rabbi Moshe Bergman

By Rochel Horowitz

Rabbi Moshe Bergman, a 24-year-old young man and a student at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was killed during the tragedy that took place at Mount Meron.

Moshe Bergman, originally from England, had lived in Jerusalem for the past two-and-a-half years with his wife of 18 months, Shira Bergman.

Rabbi Arnold Saunders, a friend of the family, described Bergman as a “wonderful” young man. “He was the kind of person about whom no one would have a bad word to say.” He described the agony of his family as they waited to find out what happened to their son, who was one of the last to be identified.

“His family accepted that this was a tragic accident. They do not want to engage in guilt nor are they looking for culprits. They want the facts checked to ensure that nothing like this happens again but there is no anger. I was very inspired by their reactions,” he said.

Bergman was buried in Jerusalem early Sunday morning. His family members watched the funeral online from their home in Salford, and some of them flew to Israel to sit shivah with the deceased’s widow.

Yedidya Moshe Chayut, 13, of Bnei Brak: A Righteous and Holy Young Man

Yedidya Moshe Chayut
Yedidya Moshe Chayut

By Rochel Horowitz

Outside the Sfaradi synagogue on Rechov Abramski in Bnei Brak, participants are gathering for the funeral of 13 year old Yedidya Chiyut. Some of those gathered knew him well but many do not.

“I cut his hair at his upshernish, I knew him when he was born,” says one participant.

“This tragedy hits very close to home for us,” says another. “Even though we didn’t know Yedidya personally, we feel that we need to be here. This hurts for everyone.”

Two weeks after his bar mitzvah, Yedidya eagerly joined his father, Rabbi Avigdor Chiyut, in visiting Meron for the first time. His father, who was injured in the Meron disaster, left his hospital bed on Saturday night to attend the funeral.

"Yedidya, we will be strong and we will move forward, you will never part from us," his father said. "Tonight, both your mother and I bought burial plots next to you."

"In the meantime we have sent you as an ambassador to heaven to meet your little sister who died immediately upon birth. You will get to know all the rabbis and tzadikim you’ve learned about. I only wish that we could achieve a small fraction of what you’ve achieved in your studies and in your devotion to holiness," Avigdor added.

“Yedidya, you always did whatever your father requested of you, so I’m asking you for one more thing: “Go to G‑d and tell him ‘enough, enough.’ Yedidya we love you, I love you. We’ll meet again soon.”

Avigdor Chiyut told Kan public radio that he and Yedidya had become separated in the narrow passageway which became a bottleneck and the site of the Meron catastrophe. His younger son, Shmuel, was at his father’s side as people fell on top of them.

“Abba, I am about to die. Let’s ‘Shema Yisrael,’” he heard 10-year-old son Shmuel say - a prayer traditionally said by Jews facing imminent death. Shmuel survived with a minor injury.

Yedidya’s brother, Zvi Yehuda Dror, spoke of his special character: "You were a special brother, a son beloved to our father and mother. You would follow your rabbis and follow the righteous. Give us more of Yedidya. Give the people of Israel more of his friendship. Give us Yedidya in our hearts."

At the funeral, Rabbi Avigdor Chiyut called for unity. "Yedidya was righteous and holy,” he said. “If he wanted me to say anything, it would be this: 'We all have something in common, we are all Jews. This is the time and the place to unite.'"

Yehonatan Chevroni, 27, of Givat Shmuel: Father of Three

Yehonatan Chevroni
Yehonatan Chevroni

By Rochel Horowitz

Yehonatan Chevroni, a 27-year-old man passed away during the Meron tragedy on Lag BaOmer.

He studied at the Beit Midrash in Givat Shmuel and was married with three daughters, ages six, four and two years old. He heroically and faithfully stood by the side of his wife, Tanya, who had fallen ill in recent years.

He was a student of Rabbi Reuven Sasson who described him as a noble person. “I have not seen people mourning like this except among the righteous," said Rabbi Sasson.

“Yehonatan, I have always known that you are righteous and pure, a man of truth,” wrote Chevroni’s sister. “Everyone is talking about the light you had in your eyes. People keep telling us how significant you were to them, and they are sure they are the only ones. Yonatan, I admire how cultivated your hobbies, bought a camera, painted and walked every path in Israel.

I can’t believe I am writing about you in the past tense. I'm waiting for you to come back and tell us that they're only testing our unity, our faith and the strength of our family. Watch over us from Above.”

“We will have to be strong,” wrote another sister. “Since you’ve left, the world has lost a lot of light.”

He was buried on Saturday evening in the Segula Cemetery in Petach Tikva, accompanied by family and friends. His friend Berla Crombie eulogized him: "My dear and beloved brother, Yonatan Chevroni just wanted to pray with Rabbi Shimon. I knew him personally as a wonderful and remarkable student. G‑d takes the best."

Eliyahu Cohen, 16, of Beitar Illit: Student at Heichal Avraham Yeshivah

Eliyahu Cohen
Eliyahu Cohen

Eliyahu Cohen, 16, was a Breslover Chassid from Betar Illit and a student of the Heichal Avraham Yeshiva.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim Diskind, 23 of Beit Shemesh: Student at Gur Kollel

Rabbi Simcha Bunim Diskind
Rabbi Simcha Bunim Diskind

By Rochel Horowitz

Simcha Bunim Diskind, 23, a well-known Gur Hassid and father of two living in Beit Shemesh, was amongst those who lost their lives in the Meiron tragedy.

“I know it's good up there for Simcha Bunim,” said his brother. “I'm sure he's sitting up there right now, studying Zohar with the Rashbi, waving goodbye to me, with his infinite smile. We remain here with shattered hearts, broken and in pain. I promise you that we will do everything for little Mindy and Moishe,” he said about Simcha Bunim’s two young children.

“We can't understand Hashem's ways, but we can show Him how we respond as a nation during times of tragedy.”

"He radiated joy and made everyone happy. Everyone felt close to him, no matter who they were," says his father, Yaakov Diskind. "Our son was a gift, and we thank G‑d for the years that we had the privilege of raising him. Just as we do not ask why G‑d gives us a gift, we do not ask why he takes it from us.”

Simcha Bunim was a student at the Gur Hasidic Kollel in Beit Shemesh. He was 23 at the time of his death, leaving behind his wife (22), a 3-and-a-half-year-old girl, and a 9-month-old baby.

Simcha Bunem’s three older brothers enlisted in the army. When he went to study at the kollel, it was clear to all of us that he was supposed to be there. “That is his destiny. To grow and be a rabbi,” says his sister.

His brother Ephraim Israel recounts: "He was a man who, if there was a dispute, he asked not to be involved.”

It was the first and last time that Simcha would attend the celebration in Meron. His father had tried to dissuade him from attending up until he was on the bus to Meiron. On the night of the disaster as the news spread, his mother couldn't sleep and stayed up to recite Psalms. Frantic messages and phone calls were exchanged by family members in an attempt to locate their son and brother.

“We were sure everything would be fine,” says Simcha’s sister. “He would surely send a message. He would do anything to inform us and reassure us. We said, maybe he didn't contact us because maybe he was slightly injured. We felt sad for all the other families for whom the disaster had affected. I did not think it would happen to us."

His mother, Chava, said: "I said to myself, Bunim would not be pushed. Whenever a bus came and a lot of people wanted to get on it, he would not push. He would always say ‘I’ll arrive when I arrive, the next bus will come soon.’"

Simcha’s brother Ephraim Israel, who served in the IDF, says that knowing that his brother was learning Torah all day in Kollel gave him a lot of strength and made him feel protected. “I felt like I had an angel guarding me."

When asked if she is angry with those responsible for the incident in Meron, his mother Chava said: "It has nothing to do with us. We are simple people. I have educated my children that when one sees injustice, it is between the one who did the injustice and the Creator of the world. There are people who are responsible and I'm sure they are not sleeping at night. I'm also sure that those who have to judge them are not sleeping either.”

Chen Doron, 41, of Holon: Torah Teacher and ‘Baal Teshuvah

Chen Doron, a baal teshuvah from the city of Tel Giborim in Holon, Israel, was killed in the Meron disaster. He was 41 years old and was a teacher at a local Yeshiva.

A friend wrote about him on Facebook: “My dear brother … every time we saw each other, we continued the conversation right from where we left off. Ever since you became religious, you wanted to build a family in Israel but G‑d had different plans for you. Doron, watch over Am Yisrael from above with your endless smile.”

“Impossible!” wrote another shocked friend on social media. “How is it possible to speak about him in the past tense? His memory should be for a blessing.”

Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, 12, and his brother Yosef Dovid, 18, from Jerusalem:

David Elhadad and Moshe Elhadad
David Elhadad and Moshe Elhadad

By Rochel Horowitz

Brothers Moshe and David Elhadad, ages 12 and 18, came to rejoice in the celebration in Meron but were found dead in the crowded path in which 45 people were tragically killed.

Their father, Rabbi Nachman Elhadad, said that this tragedy is not his private disaster. “This is the sorrow of all of the people of Israel. They were such precious treasures, indescribable,” he says. “ I said to the Holy One, Blessed be He, 'How can they leave me like that? Without permission? Without saying goodbye?...”

One of the visitors at the house of mourning related that he had lay next to his older son during his last moments on earth. He said that as he met the last moments of his life, he spoke to G‑d. “Todah, Abba. Thank you, dear Father,” he said. He then suggested that they say Psalm ‘Mizmor LeTodah,’ together, a song of thanks and gratitude towards G‑d which ends with “because G‑d’s kindness is good and his faithfulness carries over for generations.” He then suggested they say Shema together. They began saying Shema as the young boy took his last breath.

Rabbi Elhadad returned from Meron after the funeral of his two young children, which took place there. Rabbis, public figures, family members and acquaintances came to comfort mourners at his home in Jerusalem. He told those present: "We do not understand the ways of G‑d, we don’t know anything. We just have faith.”

Moshe Natan Engrald 14, and Yehoshua Engrald, 9, of Jerusalem

Yehoshua Engrald and Moshe Natan Engrald
Yehoshua Engrald and Moshe Natan Engrald

By Staff

The Engrald brothers had gone to Meron to celebrate, yet that celebration ended tragically when the boys were caught in the midst of the crowd. From Jerusalem, the boys, whose family are Bobover Chassidim, were among the youngest of the 45 souls lost on Lag BaOmer.

All around Israel, the homes where mourners are sittingshiva are filled not just with friends, families and neighbors, but with people from all walks of Jewish life who otherwise might never meet or interact with one another. One such visitor posted the following on social media after he let the Engrald home.

There is a situation where I have just experienced one of the most significant moments in my life.

I am currently leaving the shiva at home of the Engrald family, who lost their two children in the Meron disaster, Moshe Natan Neta (14) and Yehoshua Engrald (9). And my heart is just bursting with mixed feelings. The eyes are full of tears of sadness, but the heart is flooded with joy.

When my friend Maor and I, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, entered their house, we stuck out in the Haredi landscape. Some of the eyes were raised towards us, and two charming Haredim got up straight from their seats and let us sit right in front of Menachem Mendel, the father who lost his two sons a few days ago. He caught our eye and immediately stopped speaking Yiddish with the rest of the comforters and turned to us in Hebrew. We froze, given the size of the group.

"I'm glad you came" he says, his eyes wet with tears but his face radiates a glow:

"When would we have gotten to meet, you and me?" Maor and I look at him with his sparkling eyes as if an angel is talking to us.

"You will know that what is happening here is the truth. You and I are in pain together over the great loss and are strengthening each other. It does not matter if you are secular or religious. We are Jews."

The whole crowd of comforters quietly began to shake back and forth as if in prayer as they listen to Menachem Mendel speak to us.

"I want you to invite me to your simchas (joyous events)!" he exclaims. "And I will invite you to my simchas!"

The tears just erupted spontaneously.

A few seconds of silence, he looks down and mumbles, "Who is like your people Israel ..."

After the prayer, we approached him and before we could say the words of consolation he said to us: "Thank you for coming, you strengthened me"

Maor and I leave the house, looking at each other and unable to talk. I do not digest what happened. And as I write these lines I still do not digest.

This encounter represents the truth of our people, the endless free love that exists between us.

Mordechai Yoel Fekete, 23, of Beit Shemesh: Father of Two

By Faygie Levy Holt

A husband and father, 23-year-old Mordechai Yoel Fekete was in Meron when tragedy struck. A resident of Beit Shemesh, he leaves behind a wife and two very young children.

Yedidya Fogel, 22, of Jerusalem: Torah Student

Yedidya Fogel
Yedidya Fogel

By Faygie Levy Holt

Like many people, Yedidya Fogel of Jerusalem had gone to Meron to experience the awe-inspiring Lag B’Omer gathering. A yeshivah student in Ramat Gan, Yedidya was caught up in the crowd when tragedy struck on April 30.

Elazar Gefner, 52, of Jerusalem: Educator in Har Nof

By Faygie Levy Holt

Elazar Gefner was a chasid from the Dzikov-Viznitz group. The 52-year-old lived in Jerusalem and was one of the 45 people who lost their lives during the mass gathering at Meron on Lag B’omer. According to Mishpacha magazine, he was an educator in Har Nof and would take friends with him to visit people at a local psychiatric facility.

Shragee Gestetner, 33, of Monsey, N.Y.: Chassidic Singer Turned Role-Model Businessman

Shragee Gestetner
Shragee Gestetner

By Dovid Margolin

Shraga Eliyahu (Shragee) Gestetner of Monsey, N.Y., was among the 45 pilgrims who lost their lives on April 30 in the midst of celebrating Lag BaOmer at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai on Mount Meron, Israel. He was 33 years old and survived by his wife, Tzipi, and five children, the oldest of whom celebrated his bar mitzvah in the fall of 2020.

Friends, relatives and acquaintances remembered Gestetner, a member of the Skver Chassidic group, as a loving father and husband, and a sweet and gentle soul. Gestetner was born and raised in Montreal and studied at the central Skver yeshivah in New Square, N.Y. After his marriage in 2006, he settled in Monsey. A talented singer and composer, Gestetner released two albums of Chassidic music that showcased his heartfelt voice and musical virtuosity.

“We spent nights together singing and composing music,” recalls his yeshivah classmate and friend Yehuda Curland of Montreal. “I’m a musician, and he’d constantly come to me with new compositions we would work on.”

After working as a professional singer for a number of years, in 2014, Gestetner started Vant Panels, a line of elegant headboard panels that can be affixed to a bedroom wall. The panels were Gestetner’s own innovation, and he worked hard to build his vision into a successful business. Far from letting his business’s success get to his head, his dedication to the life and spirit of Judaism intensified.

“Every Friday afternoon at 12, he would stop working and discussing work, and focus on Shabbos,” says Curland. “If you met him on a Shabbos in shul and asked him how business was, he’d always say, ‘That we can discuss after Shabbos.’ ”

His study partners recall that he would dedicate two hours every day to Torah study, which he tried to do each morning. Yet even if a work crisis came in the way of his morning study, he would not go to sleep at night before completing two hours.

“He would fly to China for business, and his whole schedule had to revolve around his Yiddishkeit [Judaism],” says Curland. “He was a real role model. He was a smart person who came up with new ideas, he worked hard to build a company, and it was quickly expanding. But it was clear that the most important thing for him was his Chassidic devotion to the service of G‑d.”

Rabbi Eliezer Mordechai Goldberg, 37, of Beitar Illit: Beloved Schoolteacher

Rabbi Eliezer Mordechai Goldberg
Rabbi Eliezer Mordechai Goldberg

By Menachem Posner

His day began at 5 a.m., when he would invariably rise to learn Talmud. Rabbi Eliezer Mordechai Goldberg would then spend the lion’s share of his time patiently teaching school children to read the Hebrew alphabet and instilling in them a love and reverence toward Judaism.

Goldberg, who was 37 years old at the time of his untimely passing in the Meron Lag BaOmer tragedy, was a beloved and respected member of the Shildovtza Chassidic group in Beitar Illit.

Along with his teaching position at the Aderet Eliyahu school in his hometown, he was also an expert scribe.

In addition to his parents, in-laws, siblings, and wife, he leaves behind four orphans, the eldest of whom is 14 years old.

Rabbi Yosef Greenbaum, 22, of Haifa: Promising Torah Scholar

Rabbi Yosef Greenbaum
Rabbi Yosef Greenbaum

By Menachem Posner

A resident of the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Rabbi Yosef Greenbaum was a member of the Vizhnitzer hassidic community, where he was prized as an up-and-coming Torah scholar.

A victim of the fatal incident that took place in Meron on Lag BaOmer, He leaves his heavily pregnant wife and a one-year-old child.

Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, 26, of Monroe, N.Y.: Traveled to Israel for Lag BaOmer

By Menachem Posner

Eliezer Tzvi Joseph
Eliezer Tzvi Joseph

Among the 45 casualties of the terrible accident that took place in Meron on Lag BaOmer was Rabbi Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, a 26-year-old resident of the Satmar enclave of Kiryas Joel, in Monroe, N.Y.

Besides for his studies, he engaged in acts of kindness, maintaining a free-loan fund to help people in need.

He had traveled to Israel to participate in the festivities and to be tested for an advanced rabbinic degree.

With most of his family unable to attend, his funeral was a packed affair, with thousands of Israelis coming out to accord him his final respects in the streets of Bnei Brak.

In addition to his wife, Fraidy, and parents, Yomtov and Henya Joseph, he leaves behind four children.

Nachman Kirschenbaum, 15, of Beit Shemesh: Beloved Son

Nachman Kirschenbaum
Nachman Kirschenbaum

By Menachem Posner

The son of Rabbi Eliyahu Kirschenbaum, he was just 15-and-a-half when his life tragically ended in the Meron.

Rabbi Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald of Beitar Ilit: Kollel Head

Rabbi Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald
Rabbi Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald

Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, 43, is survived by eight children. He was the head of a Kollel of the Rachmastrivka Chassidic group, known as “Yeshivat Me’or Enayim” in the city of Betar Illit.

Menachem Knoblowitz, 22, Brooklyn: Was Soon to Be Married

Menachem Knoblowitz
Menachem Knoblowitz

Menachem Knoblowitz, 22, from Brooklyn, NY who had been engaged only two weeks prior to the daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Rosemarin, was killed during the Meiron tragedy .

He had come to Israel especially for the celebration: "He was ‘a gentle-minded guy,’ said one of his friends.

Yossi Kohn, 21, of Cleveland Ohio: Rabbinical Student at Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem

By Rochel Horowitz

Yossi Kohn
Yossi Kohn

A young yeshivah student from Cleveland Heights, Oh., was amongst the victims who tragically lost their lives at the tragic Mt. Meron disaster.

Yossi Kohn, a 21 year old yeshivah student, was studying for rabbinic ordination at the Mir yeshivah of Jerusalem. He is described as an honest and caring young man who went out of his way to assist others.

His mother, Chaya Gitty Kohn, is the principal for seventh and eighth grade at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland’s Beatrice Stone Yavne High School.

Rabbi Simcha Dessler, principal of the Hebrew Academy told the Cleveland Jewish News that Kohn “endeared himself to whoever he met. So much so that one individual posted after his passing that he had only met him once in his life and yet he feels like he was a friend for life.”

Kohn’s father, Menachem Kohn, was killed in a car accident in the Catskills when Kohn was two years old. In addition to his mother, Kohn is survived by three brothers and five sisters, all of whom reside in New Jersey or Cleveland.

Kohn was laid to rest in Bnei Brak, Israel, on May 2nd and Shiva began in Israel and continued in Lakewood, NJ.

Elazar Yitzchak Koltai, 13, of Jerusalem: Native of Passaic, N.J.

Elazar Yitzchak Koltai
Elazar Yitzchak Koltai

Born in Passaic, N.J., Elazar Yitzchak Koltai made aliyah to Israel with his parents and lived in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem. The recently bar-mitzvahed young scholar was beloved by friends, family and neighbors. According to Mishpacha magazine, he once came close to tears when everyone in his class wanted to sit next to him and he worried that some who could not might have hurt feelings. The regular mailman was found weeping outside the family’s building when he learned that his young friend would no longer be able to help him.

Rabbi David Krauss, 33, of Beit Shemesh: Survived by Wife and 9 Children

David Krauss, 33, a chassid of Toldot Aharon from the city of Beit Shemesh is survived by his wife and nine children.

Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz, 19 of Safed: Sent Prescient Text to His Mother

While traveling on the relatively short bus ride from Safed to Meron, 19-year-old yeshivah student Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz sent a strange and very uncharacteristic text message to his mother, Sarah Leibowitz: "Mom, I'm on the bus, I cannot explain this but I have a request to you: I do not feel good that I went to Meron, I do not feel good. Pray for me really hard, Mom, promise me. I do not understand why I’m traveling there."

“I do not know what happened to my son, a man of wisdom and giving, who called me and told me this,” said his mother. “We have not yet recovered from the death of our grandfather and now a very severe blow has fallen on us. I do not know what to think.”

Yosef Yehuda Levy, 17 of Rechasim: Yeshivah Student

Yosef Yehuda Levy
Yosef Yehuda Levy

Yosef Yehuda Levy was 17, of Rechasim near Haifa, born to his parents in their elder years.

Moshe Levy, 14, of Bnei Brak: Yeshivah Student

Moshe Levy
Moshe Levy

Moshe Levy was 14, from Bnei Brak.

Yosef Mastorov, 18, of Ramla: Student at Yeshivah in Carmiel

Yosef Mastorov, 18, was from Ramla and learned in Yeshivat Rina Shel Torah in nearby Carmiel.

Rabbi Shimon Matalon, 37, of Beitar Ilit: Beloved Schoolteacher

Rabbi Shimon Matalon
Rabbi Shimon Matalon

By Aharon Loschak

Shimon Matalon, 37, a resident of Beitar Illit, was tragically killed in the Meron disaster.

Matalon was a beloved teacher in a local school, known to always have a smile on his face and a generous, kind spirit. Living just a few doors down from the Chabad shul in the neighborhood, he was seen there every day for the morning services. is survived by his 11 children.

Reb Shimon was absolutely part of our community, and it’s inconceivable that we will no longer be seeing him every morning with his beautiful smile,” said Rabbi Dovi Halperin, Rabbi of the Chabad community shul.

Shimon had recently purchased a new vehicle, and had announced that, “the first trip I want to take with it will be to Meron for Lag B’omer.” Sadly, he never made it back in that car.

Yossi Elituv, a journalist for Israeli media and a good friend of the deceased who also lives in Betar, relates that just this past Thursday—the day before Lag B’omer—Shimon shared an envelope with him, instructing him not to open it until Sunday.

Upon opening the envelope, Elituv was shocked to discover a single sheet of paper upon which was handwritten a short poem that is eerily prescient, speaking of faith in the face of tragedy and optimism instead of grief. You can read it here.

Lior Rafaeli, Matalon’s brother-in-law, said, “Shimon was named after Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai [buried in Meron]. He would go there every year on Lag B’omer. Shimon was a teacher in a local school, and he taught the special education class. He was a father not just to his children, but to all his students. He was dedicated to education, a kind person, and loved by his community. We have been dealt a tragic blow.”

Eyewitnesses from the scene of the tragedy relate that while pinned to the floor, someone extended their hand to try and rescue Shimon. “No, there is a young child right here next to me, save him instead,” he cried. Tragically, those were his final words.

He is survived by his wife and ten children.

Yishai Mualem, 17, of Rechasim: Yeshivah Student

Yishai Mualem, 17, was from Rechasim near Haifa.

Donny Morris, 19, of Bergenfield, N.J.: Beloved Yeshivah Student

Donny Morris
Donny Morris

By Faygie Levy Holt

In the last known photo taken of Donny Morris, 19, of Bergenfield, N.J., he was standing among thousands of Jews and smiling as he was celebrating Lag BaOmer. The smile and joy in his face were not only genuine, but a reflection of who he was at his core, according to those who knew him.

Nachman Daniel “Donny” Morris was one of the 45 souls who passed away on April 30 during holiday celebrations in Meron, Israel.

The eldest of three children, Donny, a native of Bergenfield, N.J., was in Israel for his gap year studying at Yeshivat Sha’alavim in Central Israel. He traveled to the northern city of Meron with friends to experience the unique Lag BaOmer celebrations there.

“No one remembers him not smiling,” Rabbi Ari Waxman, dean of Yeshivat Sha’alavim, told Israel’s Kan News. “He always had a good word and was always thirsty for Torah. He was always happy with his friends. Everyone loved him.”

“I just want people to know that Israel has lost an angel,” said Waxman.

“There is nothing more true than this,” wrote Donny’s aunt, Shira Kronenberg, on Facebook in response. “The world truly lost an angel. If his rabbis can know that from just knowing him this past year, you can only imagine how truly incredible of a person Donny was. He will be missed, and there will always be a hole in the hearts of all who knew him!”

Speaking to the Jewish Link newspaper, Rabbi Avi Rosalimsky of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, where the Morris family are members, said: “Last year [before COVID], when the boys were about to play football in the park, I overheard one of the boys asking Donny, ‘Why do you always smile? Don’t you ever have a bad day?’ Donny responded, ‘Every day that Hashem allows me to wake up and spend time with you guys is a great day.’ ”

A graduate of Yeshiva University High School for Boys, Donny was reported to be a baseball fan, having both played in youth leagues as a child and as a fan of his hometown team, the New York Mets.

When word of the terrible events began to spread on April 30, the picture of Donny smiling in Meron circulated on social media as the family pleaded for information. Calls for people to recite Tehillim, Psalms, went viral as well.

Later on Friday came the news that Donny had passed away, and it has left a family, a synagogue and a community reeling. A funeral was held for Donny Morris on Sunday evening at Yeshivat Sha’alavim and live-streamed to allow Jews from all over to attend.

As soon as Shabbat had ended, a number of friends sent out WhatsApp messages inviting students to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem for an impromptu memorial service. Within hours, the message went viral, and thousands of students from yeshivahs around Israel gathered for songs, Psalms and words of inspiration in Donny’s memory.

Donny leaves behind his parents, Aryeh and Mirlana Morris, and his younger siblings, Akiva and Gabriella, as well as the extended Morris and Kronenberg families.

Chaim Rock, 19, of Beit Shemesh: Yeshivah Student

Chaim Rock
Chaim Rock

Chaim Rock, 19, was from the central city of Beit Shemesh and had studied in the Birkat Shmuel Yeshiva there before joining the Mir (Brachfeld) Yeshiva in Modi’in Illit.

“Chaim was unique,” his study partner, Yoeli Brim, told Bechadrei Charedim. “He was special in how he thought, his noble spirit, in his brilliance. Everything about him was just different. During [Talmud] lectures, he would surprise us, and also the teachers.”

In his free time, Rock enjoyed composing and arranging his own musical compositions. Friendly and social, he would gather musically talented students and lead them in a cappella sessions.

Yehuda Leib Rubin, 27, of Beit Shemesh: Had a Radiant, Joyful Countenance

Yehuda Leib Rubin
Yehuda Leib Rubin

By Menachem Posner

Among the 45 casualties of the Meron Lag BaOmer tragedy was 27-year-old Yehuda Leib Rubin, of Bet Shemesh, who leaves behind his wife, Nechama, and three children, the eldest of whom is just four years old.

His father, Yom Tov Rubin, is the managing editor of the Hebrew-language daily newspaper, Hamevaser.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel Two news, Nechama Rubin described her husband as having a radiant, joyful countenance. “On one hand he was a deep person, thoughtful and intelligent,” she said. “At the same time, he was joyful, living the best life.”

Video footage of four-year-old Yonatan Rubin saying Kaddish at the funeral of his father was widely shared, tugging the heartstrings around the world.

Haim Seler, 24, of Jerusalem: A New Father

Haim Seler
Haim Seler

Haim Seler, 24, of Jerusalem is survived by his wife, a granddaughter of Uri Lupolianski, the former mayor of Jerusalem, and 2-week-old daughter.

Elkana Shiloh, 28 of Jerusalem

Elkana Shiloh, 28, was a resident of Jerusalem.

Hanoch Slod, 52, of Ashdod: Dedicated Matchmaker

Hanoch Slod, 52, was from Ashdod. A chassid of Gur, he was known as a passionate fellow and a dedicated shadchan, matchmaker. Mr. Yechiel Lasri, Mayor of Ashdod said, “The city of Ashdod is hanging her head in mourning. We join the family in their heavy grief.”

Dov Steinmetz, 21, of Montreal: Student of Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Dov Steinmetz
Dov Steinmetz

Montreal native Dov Steinmetz was a graduate of Yeshiva Kerem Shlomo, in Lakewood, N.J., who had come to Jerusalem to study at the Mir Yeshiva. His funeral was held on Sunday, after his family had arrived from Montreal to participate.

Yaakov Elchanan Strakovsky, 20, of Elad: Yeshiva Student

Yaakov Elchanan Strakovsky
Yaakov Elchanan Strakovsky

By Menachem Posner

Those who knew Yaakov Elchanan Strakovsky describe him as having a natural inclination toward spirituality, a refined and gentle soul who only wished to serve his Maker and bring peace to those around him.

The 20-year-old, who was among the 45 casualties in the Meron Lag BaOmer tragedy, was a student at the Beer Yisrael yeshivah in his hometown of Elad and the child of Boaz and Rachel Strakovsky.

Among the belongings of the student, his friends discovered the following handwritten prayer, which he compiled:

“Master of the World, may it be Your will, gracious and merciful G‑d, that you give me the merit, today and every day, to guard myself and my family (and the entire world regarding me) from speaking or hearing slander or gossip. And that we take care not to speak falsehood, flattery, silliness, misrepresentation, shaming others, contention, pride, anger, or anything else forbidden.

“Grant us that we speak only that which is necessary for our body and soul, and may all our actions, words, and thoughts, be for the sake of heaven.

“And place in our hearts that we each only see the goodness of our fellows and not their shortcomings.”

He was described as having a special affinity for visiting the resting places of righteous people.

“He was the ‘rabbi’ of our family, refined and with a pure soul, drawn toward spirituality, Torah, and mitzvot,” cried his anguished father, Boaz Strakovsky, during the funeral. “How can I think that my child went to celebrate in honor of a tzaddik, and this is how he returns? It’s incomprehensible!”

Yosef Amram (“Yossi”) HaLevi Tauber, 19, of Monsey, N.Y: Torah Student

By Menachem Posner

Yosef Amram Tauber
Yosef Amram Tauber

When Yosef Amram Tauber came to Israel, he had but one purpose: to study Torah.

To that end, he almost never ventured out of the advanced Talmudic academy, Yad HaLevi (Brisk). For Lag BaOmer, he chose to travel to Meron, joining the thousands of pilgrims who come annually to honor the legacy of the great Talmudist and Kabbalist, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai.

Tragically, he was among the 45 who lost their lives.

His passing was widely mourned in the Upstate New York community, where his father, Rabbi Tzvi (Herschel) Tauber, leads a Kollel, institute for advanced Judaic study.

Ariel Tzadik, 56 of Jerusalem: Devoted Lubaviticher Chassid

Ariel Tzadik
Ariel Tzadik

Ariel Tzadik was 56, from the Bayit Vegan neighborhood in Jerusalem. Ariel was described by friends as a devoted Lubavitcher Chassid who was passionate about doing mivtzoim: Dedicating each Friday to helping fellow Jewsn to put on tefillin, and blowing shofar in the nearby Ein Kerem neighborhood each year on Rosh Hashanah for those who did not otherwise have the chance to hear it.

At his funeral, his son spoke movingly of his dedication to his family and the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, and the overall aura of holiness about him. He was laid to rest on Mt. Olives in Jerusalem just after Shabbat.

Moshe Tzarfati, 56, of Jerusalem: An Abundance of Joy and Love

Moshe Tzarfati
Moshe Tzarfati

Moshe Tzarfati, 65, was from Jerusalem. He is survived by four children and 25 grandchildren. Known as a “golden man” with an abundance of love for his fellow Jew, he was known to dance with everyone he knew and bring joy to his surroundings.

Menahem Zeckbach, 24, of Modiin Illit: Torah Student in Kiryat Sefer

Menahem Zeckbach
Menahem Zeckbach

Menahem Zeckbach, 24, of Modiin Illit was buried on Friday afternoon in his home town of Bnei Brak. A student of the Ateret Shlomo Yeshiva in the Kiryat Sefer neighborhood, he is survived by his pregnant wife and their 1-year-old child.

Readers are invited to include additional recollections in the response box below.