Among the 45 people killed in the crush of bodies at a Lag b’Omer celebration in northern Israel were five men and a boy from the New York area, including 19-year-old yeshiva students from northern New Jersey and Monsey, N.Y.
The New Jersey student, Nachman Doniel Morris, had flown to Israel in September to study at Yeshivat Shaalvim in central Israel.
He was in the crowd of tens of thousands that gathered at Mount Meron to mark the holiday Thursday night, when a stampede on a crowded ramp led to one of the worst civilian disasters in Israel’s history.
“The Morris family are pillars of the Bergenfield-Teaneck community,” said a neighbor. “I have known [Nachman] since he was six. He was a rising star as a student in the Jewish world. He was a sweet boy. No one had anything negative to say about him.”
The neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the teenager has two younger siblings who live at home. Their father, Aryeh, is the comptroller for a local company.
The “Israeli government made special arrangements for yeshiva students who were coming to study” in the country during the pandemic, said the neighbor. “He always wanted to study in Israel.”
Morris was a graduate of the Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy in Washington Heights.
Also killed was Yosef Amram Tauber, 19, of Monsey, N.Y., a student at the Brisk yeshiva. A relative told The Jewish Week that he left for Israel to attend the yeshiva “for the first time last week.”
“His parents were nervous to send him away,” she said, adding that he had never before been to Israel.
“He was one of many who were tragically torn away – innocent young people,” she lamented.
Tauber had an older sister who a neighbor said is to be married in August. There are also several younger siblings. Tauber’s father, Zvi Tauber, is a rabbi of a congregation in Chester, N.Y.
The neighbor said that Tauber, who was known as “Yossi,” was always “full of spirit.”
“The family lived here a long time,” she said, adding that the teenager had attended a local boys yeshiva, Yeshivas Maor Yitzchak.
Another neighbor said that he had graduated recently and that “a big part of his class” had accompanied him to Israel to study at the yeshiva.
“All the kids here in the neighborhood are heartbroken, crying about the tragedy,” he said. “Nobody can believe what happened…. This is a wonderful family and a really special boy – he always wanted to be learning.”
Also killed in the stampede was Shraga Gestetner, a 35-year-old singer from Monsey, N.Y. Married and the father of five, he was in Israel visiting relatives. His mother, Shoshana, was reportedly raised in Bnai Brak.
Born in Montreal, Gestetner in recent years gravitated from music to business. His was buried Friday afternoon on Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot.
Other American victims who were identified include:
- Menachem Knoblowitz, 22, of Borough Park. He was engaged to a young woman from Lakewood, N.J., according to social media.
- Rabbi Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, 26, of Kiryas Joel, N.Y. A Satmar Hasid, he was the father of four children.
- Eliezer Yitzchok Koltai, 13, who had lived in Passaic, N.J., before moving to Jerusalem.
- Yossi Cohen, 21, of Cleveland, Ohio, who was a student at the Mir Yerushalayim yeshiva.
Misaskim, an Orthodox Jewish non-profit organization that provides services for the care of the dead and the needs of mourners, has established a hotline for Americans who have been trying to contact immediate family members in Israel and need assistance. Its phone number for immediate family only is (718) 854-4548. In addition, the organization is assisting those with flights to Israel.
A spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York said his office had contacted all of the families of those killed in the tragedy and had made “special arrangements for families wanting to travel to Israel. We have made it easier for them to go … without having to go through all of the COVID-19 procedures.”
Meanwhile, El Al is offering assistance to first degree relatives (parents, siblings, children, spouses) of those killed if they live in the United States, England, France or any other country from which El Al offers direct flights to Israel. It is offering each family up to two free tickets, with the exception of the port tax.
Tickets will be provided to those who contact El Al’s service center and present a death certificate and a passport photo. Tickets can be booked for flights departing until May 4.
Scott Richman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in New York and New Jersey, said the organization was “distraught and saddened by the loss of life.”