Lag Ba'omer Celebration Becomes Israel's Largest Gathering Since COVID Hit

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron, tonight.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather at the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron, tonight.Credit: Jalaa Marey / AFP

UPDATE: At least 44 killed at overcrowded Lag Ba'Omer event in northern Israel

Tens of thousands of people participated on Thursday in the annual Lag Ba'omer festivities at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, making it the largest event held in Israel since the coronavirus pandemic broke out last year.

Attendance at the event, located at the foot of Mount Meron and set to continue until midday Friday, was higher than it was last year, when festivities were held under restrictions that were meant to halt the spread of the virus. It was still lower than was the norm before the pandemic, however.

Among the reasons for the drop in numbers is the difficulty of traveling to Israel by ultra-Orthodox people who live abroad. There is also a drop in the number of non-Hasidic participants who usually show up for the occasion.

According to the Transportation Ministry, by 8 P.M. 923 buses had left for the event from across the country, carrying 42,300 passengers. Three hundred and thirty more buses were expected to arrive later in the night.

Eighty-five participants in these festivities required medical attention throughout the day, with medical teams on hand to attend to them. Most of the health incidents involved exhaustion and light bruising. One 80-year-old man was evacuated in critical condition after collapsing and losing consciousness. Earlier in the day, police arrested two men who were allegedly interfering with police operations in the women’s section, hurling curses at policemen. They were released several hours later after being questioned.

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