NJ teen killed in stampede at festival in Israel, local officials say

New Jersey

BERGENFIELD, N.J. — A New Jersey teenager was one of more than 40 people killed in a stampede at an Israeli celebration Friday, local officials confirmed Friday.

Daniel “Donny” Morris, 19, of Bergenfield, was one of several dozen victims who died while celebrating the holiday of Lag BaOmer — one of the happiest days on the calendar for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community — at Mount Meron, according to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

The stampede erupted around 1 a.m. as people began to leave and thronged a narrow, tunnel-like passage. According to witnesses, people began to fall on a slippery ramp, causing others to trip and sparking panic.

Morris was a graduate of the Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy (MTA) and was studying in Israel for his gap year, the local Jewish federation said.

Friday’s disaster prompted a national outpouring of grief. Devastated families rushed to identify the dead and bury them ahead of the Jewish Sabbath.

But there was also anger toward authorities over an accident that experts had long warned could happen.

Experts have long warned that the Mount Meron celebrations were ripe for disaster due to the crowded conditions, large fires and hot weather. In a 2008 report, the state comptroller, a watchdog government office, warned conditions at the site, including escape routes, “endanger the public.”

The tragedy comes days before a deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government. Netanyahu called for national unity, but public anger and grief could further cloud his hopes of remaining in office.

Last year, the celebrations were greatly scaled back due to coronavirus restrictions. But this year’s event marked the first religious gathering to be held legally since Israel lifted most restrictions in the wake of its successful vaccination program.

Jason Shames, the CEO of Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, remembered Morris on Friday night.

“He’s a very bright, young, articulate and passionate man doing what we encourage young Jews to do: to learn about who and what you are,” he said.

At the Morris home in Bergenfield, a steady stream of friends and family were offering condolences.

There were also prayers tonight at the Shabbat services at congregation Beth Abraham.

“You send your son to Israel to learn, to grow,” Shames said. “He attends a religious festival that he’s been keen on for a long time. It’s all taken away and you wake up the next morning and it’s all taken away.”

In light of this tragedy and as the investigations continue, the state of Israel has declared a national period of mourning.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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