More than half a million people are streaming into Meron for the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer and to mark the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a famous Mishnaic kabalist who left this world for the next some 1,850 years ago.

Rabbi Shimon’s tomb is located on Mt. Meron, just west of the “capital of the Galilee”, the mystical city of Tzfat that is home to numerous Jewish artists, musicians and spiritualists.

The annual celebration of Rabbi Shimon’s hilula (the ascent of the soul to heaven) always draws hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, but this year it is expected to break all records.

Some 800,000 Jews are expected to arrive at Mt. Meron, at least half by the Sabbath and the rest on Saturday night and Sunday.

All-night bonfires, singing, dancing, prayers and the traditional first-time haircuts for two and three-year-old boys will all be part of the mammoth party as Jews rock the mountain to celebrate Rabbi Shimon’s life and passing. 

Lag BaOmer, which is Hebrew for the 33rd day of the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot (Festival of Weeks), commemorates the end of a deadly plague which killed thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva in the period following the destruction of the Second Temple. It also marks high points in the military revolt, led by Bar Kochba, against the Roman invaders at the beginning of the Common Era.

New Israel Police Chief Demonstrates Sensitivity

Newly-appointed Israel Police Chief David Cohen agreed not to send Jewish police officers to secure the venue over the Sabbath, thereby avoiding its desecration. Chief Cohen ordered commanders to send only non-Jewish forces to be deployed in the area Friday night until sundown Saturday, when the Sabbath ends.

Police official Shachar Ayalon informed Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger that some 900 Druze, Circassian and Bedouin police officers would secure the mountain prior to the start of the traditional celebration Saturday night.

The thousands of Jewish police officers assigned to guard celebrants during the Lag BaOmer bash will spend the Sabbath at area hostels and inns in order to enable them to take their positions immediately thereafter.