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At least four U.S. citizens among dead in Israel’s Mount Meron disaster

At least four U.S. citizens and one Argentine are among the 45 victims of the deadly stampede during Lag Ba’omer festivities in northern Israel overnight Thursday, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The White House released a statement Friday saying that the United States was working to confirm reports of U.S. citizens killed or wounded in the incident at Mount Meron, and that the U.S. Embassy and the State Department were reaching out to support any U.S. citizen or family member affected by the event.

Rep. Mondaire Jones, a Democratic Congressman from New York whose district includes parts of Westchester and Rockland Counties, tweeted that he is “heartbroken” to learn that two of his constituents were among the dead. “My team and I are continuing to monitor the situation and stand ready to assist any [district] residents affected by this tragedy.”

The community of Danny Morris, an American who was studying in Israel, publicly mourned his loss. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey tweeted on Friday: “It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that Donny Morris, son of Mirlana and Aryeh Morris of Bergenfield, was one of the victims of the tragic event that occurred yesterday in Meron, Israel.”

Morris was studying at Yeshiva Sha’alvim, a gap year program run by Masa Israel, which runs hundreds of educational, volunteer and internship programs in Israel for young Jewish adults.

Reached for comment, a spokeswoman for Masa said that participants in programs run by the organization had permission to attend the Mount Meron festivities on their own provided that they had notified their directors in advance “since no warnings had been issued.”

All other Masa participants visiting the site on their own Thursday night have been located, she said. Their program directors had been instructed by Masa to encourage them to call their families and to provide them with psychological support.

Eight gap year programs run by Masa, which receives funding from the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel, sent organized groups of participants to Mount Meron on Thursday night, the spokeswoman confirmed. They included both yeshiva programs for men and seminary programs for women. Almost all these programs cater to high school graduates from North America.

The Masa spokeswoman said that all eight programs had received permission in advance to send their participants to the Lag B’Omer festivities from Moked Teva, a government center that ensures security for hikers and tour groups. They are Yeshivat Sha’arei Meveseret Zion, Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, Yeshivat Ohavei Yerushalayim, Ohr Somayach Institutions, Midreshet Tehillah, Sharfman’s Seminary, Seminar Pninim and the Lev Academic Center.

“The groups were in constant touch with us and returned home safely,” she said.

The Israel National News website also identified Shraga Gestetner, a 35-year-old singer who lives in Monsey, New York and was visiting Israel at the time, as another victim of the disaster.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that “the State of Israel is working to help the families of the victims who have American citizenship to help them get to Israel as soon as possible.”

Ashkenazi also told Blinken that condolence messages sent to Israel from the United States following the disaster have been received “and that this expression of solidarity with the Israeli people is invigorating and warms the hearts of the nation.”

The Israeli Interior Ministry on Friday announced that first-degree relatives of foreign citizens injured at Mount Meron would be given special permission to come to Israel to be with their loved ones, despite coronavirus travel restrictions that are still in place.

Families interested in applying for permission were asked to submit a formal request to the following email: [email protected].

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