2 Dead, Over 150 Injured in Israeli Synagogue Bleacher Collapse

May 16, 2021 Updated: May 16, 2021

JERUSALEM—Israeli medics said at least two people were killed and more than 150 injured after a bleacher collapsed at an uncompleted West Bank synagogue on Sunday, the eve of a major Jewish holiday.

The bleacher was packed with Orthodox worshippers and collapsed during prayers at the beginning of Shavuot. A spokesman for Magen David Adom told Channel 13 that paramedics had treated over 157 people for injuries and pronounced two dead, a man in his 50s and a 12-year-old boy.

Rescue workers were on the scene, treating the injured and taking people to the hospital.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it dispatched medics and other search and rescue troops to assist at the scene. Army helicopters were airlifting the injured. The collapse comes weeks after 45 Orthodox Jews were killed in a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel.

Israeli rescue workers carry a body
Israeli rescue workers carry a body outside a synagogue in Givat Zeev, outside Jerusalem, on May 16, 2021. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP Photo)

Amateur footage showed the collapse Sunday during evening prayers in Givat Zeev, a West Bank settlement just north of Jerusalem. The Orthodox synagogue was packed with hundreds of people.

Shavuot is a spring harvest festival that also marks the day in the Jewish calendar on which the Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is traditionally marked with all-night Torah study and the consumption of dairy.

Israeli authorities traded blame.

The mayor of Givat Zeev said the building was unfinished and dangerous, and that the police had ignored previous calls to take action. Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman said the disaster was a case of “negligence” and that there would likely be arrests.

Deddi Simhi, head of the Israel Fire and Rescue service, told Israel’s Channel 12 that “this building is not finished. It doesn’t even have a permit for occupancy, and therefore let alone holding events in it.”

Bleacher collapse
Israeli police officers walk inside an empty synagogue is seen in Givat Zeev, outside Jerusalem, on May 16, 2021. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP Photo)

Television footage from the scene showed the five-story building was incomplete, with exposed concrete, rebar, and wooden boards, and plastic sheeting as windows. A sign in Hebrew pasted to a wall of the building warned that “for safety reasons entrance to the site is forbidden.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter that “my heart is with the victims of the disaster in Givat Zeev.”