Tens of Thousands Light Up Mount Meron for Annual Lag Ba’omer Revival Meeting

Hasids light bonfires at tomb of revered Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Gil Eliyahu

Tens of thousands of Hasidic revelers converged on Mount Meron on Thursday for the traditional Lag Ba’omer celebration at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

A giant screen showed the Boyaner Rebbe lighting the main bonfire at the tomb plaza after nightfall. Despite the spiritual atmosphere, many smartphones were held up to document the goings on and the screened ceremony was interrupted several times by holiday greetings sponsored by a health maintenance organization.

After the first lighting ceremony was over thousands of people moved on the road from Moshav Meron to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s tomb. The road was lined with stalls on both sides and dozens of people were asking for donations.

One man asked for a contribution for autistic children, beside him a woman sat at a table with a sign saying “My wife is very ill. Treatment costs 180,000 shekels.” In the middle of the road sat a middle-aged woman in a white dress and white crown, holding a sign saying, “Charity for a bride.”

Yael, 21, of Pardes Katz, stood in the middle of the crowd handing out pamphlets featuring a set of 10 psalms whose recital allegedly serves as repentance for all sins. In her other hand she held half a plastic bottle with coins in it.

She herself became religious only a year ago and since then has been trying to persuade others to do the same, she said. The more charity people give her, the more pamphlets she can buy to hand out.

“I’ve handed 700 out in three hours,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

Yael said she used to live in a kibbutz and her parents don’t speak to her, but she keeps smiling all the same.

“If I had a daughter who became religious and all I knew of the religious people was from the media, I too would think she lost it,” she said.

More stalls spring up, filling the street, offering handkerchiefs, olive oil, spices, candles, wind chimes, pictures of holy men and even chains with flickering, colored light bulbs shaped like a hamsa.

Most revelers crowd round a stall selling discs, from which rhythmic music is blaring. Dozens of people, religious and secular, dance in front of this stall, while dozens of others photograph them with their cell phones. Two Hasidim blow shofars.

Behind this stall a small caravan with two seats offers a blessing for anyone who wants it. Three youngsters dressed in white with sidecurls say the best-selling disc this year is again the song about Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, as well as Rabbi Nachman’s books.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai may be the reason for the celebration, but Rabbi Nachman rules. The celebration grows more intense as the hours pass, with the Bratzlav Hasidim the life and soul of the party.

Adi Yirmiyahu of Beit Shemesh, 21, is selling Rabbi Nachman books. “I used to play in a rock band,” he says. Three years ago he turned from a metal head to a Hasid with sidecurls.

“This music is a very high spiritual level, like there’s rock and there’s metal, which is a higher spiritual level than rock, so it is in Rabbi Nachman’s books,” he says.

Two Hasids in a corner are mixing vodka with an energy drink.

Half an hour after midnight, a sale begins at another book stall. A book by Rabbi Nachman is going for 90 shekels. “Anyone who buys the book enters a raffle and can win a flight ticket to Uman!” the vendor says, referring to the Ukrainian city where Rabbi Nachman is buried.

By 1 A.M. no one seems tired and the reveling continues full tilt. At the roadside several families have set up tents and put the children to sleep, which seems impossible in the incredible din, but then everybody on Mount Meron this night appears to believe in miracles.

(Photo by Gil Eliyahu)