For some, Lag Ba'omer is a spiritual day for reflecting on the philosophy of the Zohar, as handed down by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose life is commemorated on the day. For others, Lag Ba'omer is a day of joy and happiness, and end to a period of semi-mourning instituted to remember the destruction caused by disunity.
For rescue workers, Lag Ba'omer is one of the busiest work days of the year, as modern Israelis of all religious backgrounds celebrate it with bonfires, barbecues, and backyard partying. At Meron, where hundreds of thousands gather to vist the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the workload is even greater, as the crowds and general ruckus abounding virtually guarantee that someone will get hurt.
This year was no different. As of Sunday afternoon, Magen David Adom rescue workers said, they had treated 620 people who had come to celebrate at Meron. Several required hospitalization in nearby Tzefat. Most were the victims of smoke inhalation or burns, and most of the injuries were light; however, at least one man was being treated for severe burns. A number of people were also being treated for drinking too much alcohol.
The number treated at Meron this year was significantly higher than the 387 treated at last year's event – a dramatic rise by itself, made even more striking when one takes into account that only about half the celebrants who showed up last year came to Meron this year.
Five people were treated for burns and smoke inhalation in the rest of Israel on Saturday night, but officials said they expected that number to rise significantly later Sunday night, because most communities heeded the pleas of the Rabbinate and the Education Ministry to hold their bonfires on Sunday night in order to avoid violations of the Sabbath. School was in session Sunday, so kids generally did not participate in bonfires Saturday night – but with Monday a day off, kids and teenagers were out in droves Sunday night attending bonfires. Rescue workers were out in droves, too, awaiting the inevitable call to duty.
Eli Been, director of Magen David Adom, said that the organization considered Lag Ba'omer “a national event that requires us to use all the technological means at our disposal to ensure safety. I am happy to say that this year, as in the past, MDA workers are ready to fulfill their mission, whether at Meron or in the rest of the country. I wish all the injured a speedy recovery and congratulate MDA workers for their efforts.”