Skip To Content

Mount Meron part of history of deadly religious stampedes

The Mount Hermon tragedy Thursday, in which at least 45 people were killed during a Lag Ba’Omer celebration in Israel, is an unusual event in modern Jewish history. While large crowds and religious fervor often make for a dangerous combination, the lack of many organized pilgrimages in Judaism means that Jews have rarely been caught in the kind of deadly stampedes that have plagued the Muslim Hajj in Saudi Arabia and Hindu festivals in India. That said, the Mount Meron gathering led to tragedy in one previous incident over a century ago. Here is a brief overview of some religious stampedes in the 20th and 21st centuries.

1902: Shiloh Baptist Church stampede

A crowd of more than 3,000 had gathered in a Birmingham, Ala., church on September 19 to hear a speech by Booker T. Washington as part of the Baptist Convention. After Washington spoke, a fight broke out and shouts of “fight” and “quiet” were mistook for “fire,” leading to a rush for the exits that killed 115 people.

1911: Mount Meron roof collapse

In pre-state Palestine, a Lag B’Omer celebration of 10,000 people at Mount Meron ended in a tragedy similar to Thursdays. The collapse of a roof railing led to 100 people falling over 20 feet onto a crowd gathered below. Eleven people died.

1954: Prayag Kumbh Mela stampede

The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu pilgrimage festival celebrated every 12 years at four sites across India. The February 3 pilgrimage was the first following Indian independence but turned into a tragedy when nearly 800 people were trampled or drowned in a river at the Prayag site.

1980: The Pope visits Brazil

Three people were killed on July 10 and other injured as tens of thousands of people rushed to a soccer stadium that Pope John II was visiting in Brazil. According to the Washington Post, “generally chaotic conditions and poor planning on the part of Brazilian authorities” led to a dangerous atmosphere during the 10-day visit to the world’s most populous Catholic nation.

2004: Miyun stampede

A new year’s celebration in the Beijing suburbs ended with the deaths of 37 people in a stampede on Feb. 6. The incident occurred in a park at the end of the national Spring Festival, where revelers gathered to release lanterns.

2005: Al-Aimmah bridge stampede

Nearly 1,000 Iraqis were killed on Sept. 1, during a Shiite pilgrimage over a bridge in Baghdad after rumors spread that a suicide bomber was in the crowd. At least 950 were either crushed in the crowd or died after falling off the bridge. The event marked the largest single-day loss of life since the U.S. invasion began two years earlier, according to the New York Times.

2015: Mina stampede in Mecca

While many of the most dangerous stampedes have occurred at events during the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Mina stampede on Sept. 24 was the largest. The tragedy took place as two groups of pilgrims collided on their way to participate in a ritual called “the stoning of the devil.” Thousands in attendance were crushed and while the Saudi Arabian authorities never released an accurate death toll, media estimates put the total at around 2,400.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning journalism this Passover.

In this age of misinformation, our work is needed like never before. We report on the news that matters most to American Jews, driven by truth, not ideology.

At a time when newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall. That means for the first time in our 126-year history, Forward journalism is free to everyone, everywhere. With an ongoing war, rising antisemitism, and a flood of disinformation that may affect the upcoming election, we believe that free and open access to Jewish journalism is imperative.

Readers like you make it all possible. Right now, we’re in the middle of our Passover Pledge Drive and we still need 300 people to step up and make a gift to sustain our trustworthy, independent journalism.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Only 300 more gifts needed by April 30

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.