As tragic as the death of a woman at a Yavneh wedding hall Monday was, Israelis needed to prepared themselves for further similar tragedies, believes Itzik Tayeb, the chairman of the Israel Wedding Hall Association. Speaking to financial daily Globes, Tayeb said that as many as half of the wedding halls in Israel were unlicensed – meaning that no one had inspected their sites for safety, or anything else.
“We need a real reboot in this business,” Tayeb said. “Fourteen years ago there was the massive accident in Jerusalem, when the floor of the Versailles Palace wedding hall collapsed. The incident in Yavneh must once again focus our attention on the safety issue.”
Twenty three people were killed and 380 were injured in that 2001 Jerusalem tragedy, and those deaths spurred a major probe into the wedding hall industry – and a government effort to close down unlicensed facilities. Over the years, though, authorities have slacked off, and as a result many new unlicensed sites have opened, often in the same place where halls had been closed down years before.
Aviva Hayon, 54, from Moshav Ezer in the south, was killed when a chandelier crashed to the floor of an events hall during a wedding. 21 people were also injured during the incident; some 800 guests were attending the wedding. Blood spattered the hall floor and many witnesses compared the incident to a terror attack.
According to Tayeb, the wedding and celebration industry – including bar and bat mitzvahs, circumcisions, family events, etc. – is worth about NIS 14 billion ($3.7 billion) a year and directly employs 65,000 people. That is a tempting set of numbers, but competition in the industry is high – which has led hundreds of entrepreneurs to open unlicensed sites.
The Yavneh hall where Hayon was killed had been on the radar of officials in the city. Officials in March sued the hall's owners, demanding that they shut the operation down. The hall had been operating without a license, and without a building or safety permit. While the trial was going on, the owners managed to get the building permit approved, and got safety approval from fire and police officials. However, they were unable to secure a business permit, because they could not pass a health inspection.