There were far fewer celebrants at Meron this year for Lag Ba'omer celebrations – with as many as half the estimated 400,000 people who come each year either staying home or finding alternative outlets to celebrate the day.
There were several reasons for the lower turnout, according to officials from the hassidic groups that organize the event. For one, police banned private cars from approaching anywhere near Meron, the town in northern Israel where the event, at the Tomb of Talmudic-era scholar Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, is held. Rabbi Mordechai Halperin, Chairman of the Administrative Board for Meron, said that “to some extent [the police] were right to do this,” because of major traffic jams that delayed buses and choked roads.
In addition, many people apparently decided that driving to a faraway parking lot and taking a shuttle bus so late on a Saturday night would just not be worth the effort. With Shabbat ending near 8:30 PM, residents of the center of the country would have been unlikely to reach the site before midnight, and probably well after – giving many people a rationale for skipping the celebration this year.
“It's at least half empty,” one participant in the event told Arutz Sheva. “They scared the drivers into staying away, telling them they would have to park very far away and that the only way to reach the actual site was via public transportation. Those who prefer to drive apparently just stayed away.”
Another participant said that whether it was the increased police supervision or the fewer numbers than usual, the celebrations had gone off without a hitch, much more smoothly than in previous years.