Meron, Israel – Aaround 30,000 revelers thronged the night’s Hillula ceremony marking the Lag Ba’omer holiday at the tomb of Shimon bar Yohai on Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee. As this year’s holiday fell on a Saturday, many arrived at the shrine honoring the first-century mystic only in the evening hours.
Motti Bukzin, a volunteer with the ZAKA emergency-response organization, has been at the site since the middle of last week. “There’s something electric in the air that can’t be found anywhere else in the world,” the Petah Tikva resident said. “It’s an uplifting experience that’s difficult to describe in words.”
Among those in attendance were secular visitors drawn to Meron to take in the extraordinary sight. “We came with a group of hikers,” said Danny Nir of the Lower Galilee community of Yuvalim. “We were told to prepare for an unusual – and packed – event. I’ve already been in India and other places in the world, but I’ve never been to an event of this kind, even though it’s been taking place under my nose.”
Virtually unprecedented measures were taken ahead of this year’s event, with thousands of police officers, Magen David Adom staff, ZAKA volunteers and firefighters deployed at the shrine. Dozens of buses transported celebrants from a number of parking lots set up on Meron, Israel’s highest peak after Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights.
Around 11:00 P.M. a number of bonfires were lit, with dozens of bar-mitzvah age boys granted the honor of lighting the central fire on the tomb’s roof.
At the shrine’s entrance, hundreds of visitors danced cheerfully. “Here there are none of the disputes or arguments that preoccupy us the rest of the year,” Bukzin said. “Look up there – a man in a shtreimel is dancing next to a man in a fedora, who’s dancing next to one in a knitted skullcap and another in a black yarmulke,” he said. (A shtreimel is a fur hat worn by members of certain ultra-Orthodox groups on festive occasions.)
“All of our problems and worries are forgotten here,” Bukzin said.