6:44 pm: the first news alert comes in “Horror Unfolding in Meron.” My thoughts go right to my daughter Ayala who is in Seminary in Israel this year. They were on a trip to the north, and going to Meron for Lag B’omer. Were they there tonight? I try to call her, no answer.
7:00 pm: “As many as 20 people killed, many others transported to the hospital.” I try to call again, no answer. My mind starts racing. The initial reports said “bleachers collapsed” by the “Toldos Aharon Bonfire.” I thought, “those are Chasidim, sounds like the men’s section, even if she was there, she would not have been there.” My younger daughter checks the Seminary calendar, yes, they were at Meron tonight. I call again, no answer.
8:07 pm “as many as 30 killed” and now they are saying it wasn’t bleachers, but overcrowding and a stampede. Now my mind is spinning. I call again, no answer.
It’s time for Mincha (the afternoon services). I begin my prayers with my mind focused on my daughter. After Mincha, I lead the congregation in the recitation of a chapter of psalms, something that is done when tragedy strikes, trying to hold back tears. When I finish, we begin Ma’ariv (the evening service. As I say the introductory words of Ma’ariv “והוא רחום -He is the Merciful One…” I feel my phone vibrate. I look down, and it says on the screen “Ayala Landis.”
The headmaster of her school, concerned with the lack of police supervision and crowd control, decided to call the outing short an hour earlier than originally planned, and told the girls to head back to the bus after the first bonfire lighting. They left before tragedy struck. Ayala had quite peacefully fallen asleep on the bus on the way back to where they were staying.
While I am beyond relieved, the tears are still in my eyes because the (now) 45 who tragically lost their lives are still someone’s child, and there is no better way to share in someone else’s pain than when you momentarily think it could be your child.
Possibly, this is the reason why it was so easy to cry for Cleveland native Yosef Yitzchak Issac Ben Menachem Mendel Kohn z”l, a twenty-year-old student from the Mir Yeshiva who lost his life in the tragedy. While I never had the privilege of knowing Yossi, I do know his mother. She was the principal of my two oldest daughters. She is an amazingly strong woman who lost her husband several years ago. I cannot imagine what she is going through now. Hashem should help her to find comfort and peace.
May we always bear the burdens of our friends at times of trouble, and only share in happy occasions from this point forward.