History in Pictures: Lag Ba'omer in Israel and Djerba

Historic photos of celebrations at Meron, Jerusalem and the Isle of Djerba.

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Lenny Ben-David,

Chiildren's Parade Jer.
Chiildren's Parade Jer.

Jews around the world will celebrate Lag Ba'omer on Saturday night, at the end of a month-long mourning period when they refrain from weddings or joyous gatherings. (In Israel, the bonfires in Meron will be on Saturday night, with much of the country lighting them on Sunday evening at the Rabbinate's request in order to prevent Sabbath desecration)  

The mourning remembers the thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, a renowned spiritual leader at the time of the Talmud (1st century CE).  They died in a great plague that ended on Lag Ba'omer.  

In Israel, Lag Ba'omer is marked with bonfires in every neighborhood, hikes along nature trails, and gatherings at the tombs of of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the Galilee town of Meron and of Shimon the Just (Hatzaddik) in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

We continue with historic photographs of Lag Ba'omer in Djerba, Tunisia as well as Meron and Jerusalem, Israel.

Arutz Sheva is featuring this year's Meron celebration live on Saturday night (Motzaei Shabbat) when hundreds of thousands of celebrants are expected to visit Shimon Bar Yochai's tomb in Meron. See main page.

The picture on the main page and above is the Children's Lag Ba'omer procession near Shimon Hatzaddik's tomb 1918,  from the Library of Congress collection (more details about the tomb below).

1.Lag Ba'omer in Djerba:

One of the oldest Jewish communities in the world is located in Djerba, an island off the coast of Tunisia, known as the island of kohanim because its Jewish population consisted of mostly descendants of the tribe of priests.  Over the centuries, Jews from North Africa and even southern Europe made pilgrimages to the ancient El Ghriba synagogue on Lag Ba'omer.

Despite current tensions in Arab countries in North Africa, several thousand Jews are expected to visit Djerba for the Lag Ba'omer weekend.
These pictures of the Lag Ba'omer celebrations on the island from 60 years ago were found in the Harvard Library archives.   

Djerba (Gerba) synagogue on Lag Ba'omer, 1960, (Harvard/Central Zionist Archives)

Celebrations in Djerba

2. Lag Ba'omer in Meron, Galilee, Israel 

The mystic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), a student of Rabbi Akiva's, was known for his opposition to the Roman rule in the Land of Israel.  He and his son were forced to flee to the Galilee where they hid in a cave for 12 years.  Lag Ba'omer is the day of his death, but it is actually celebrated in recognition of the Torah teachings he gave to his students.

These photographs were taken  ninety to a hundred years ago.

Dancing at the Meron tomb (Central Zionist Archives, Harvard Library, 1925) 

Celebration in Meron (circa 1915, Harvard/Central Zionist Archives)


Celebration in Meron (circa 1915, Harvard/Central Zionist Archives)

Dancing in Meron (circa 1925, Harvard/Central Zionist Archives). Note the Torah scroll in a Sephardic case. The men wearing fez hats are Sephardi Jews. The men wearing kafiyas are likely Arab participants.

Meron and tomb of Shimon Bar Yochai  (circa 1930, Library of Congress

Enlargement: the tomb on the top of the mountain

3. The Tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik, Jerusalem

Many traditional Jews who cannot travel to Meron in the Galilee celebrate Lag Ba'omer at Shimon Hatzaddik's tomb located in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in northern Jerusalem. 

Shimon Hatzaddik was a High Priest of the second Temple in Jerusalem for 40 years (2nd century BCE).According to Jewish tradition, Shimon clothed himself in his High Priest's vestments to receive Alexander the Great as he marched toward Jerusalem.  Alexander stepped from his chariot and bowed to Shimon, who, he said, had appeared to him in a dream predicting his victories.  

Jewish homes around the tomb had to be evacuated in 1947 due to Arab violence.  In recent years Jewish families, who have proof of home ownership by Jews, have returned to the neighborhood.

Jewish women praying at the Shimon Hatzaddik tomb (Central Zionist Archives, Harvard Library, c. 1930)

Jews gathered at Shimon Hatzaddik's tomb in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem (Central Zionist Archives, Harvard Library, c. 1930)

Shimon Hatzaddik's tomb today