The mountaintop city of Meron, in northern Israel, is the country’s second-highest spot, but for one day each spring it is the highest in religious passion.
On Lag b’Omer, the 33rd day of the period between Passover and Shavuot, an estimated quarter-million people, from secular to haredi, ascend to the open grounds of the city that becomes Israel’s answer to the Kentucky Derby or the Indianapolis 500 — an annual Woodstock that attracts families instead of hippies. Pilgrims and tourists come days in advance, arriving by car and bus and van.
Lag b’Omer is a holiday enveloped in traditions that have taken on the force of religious obligation. Traditions, for the secular, like picnics; for the religious, like pilgrimages to the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, and haircuts for 3-year-old boys; for everybody, bonfires.
The date marks the anniversary of Shimon Bar Yochai’s death 1,800 years ago, and the end of a plague that took the lives of thousands of students of Rabbi Akiba in Talmudic times.
Elsewhere in Israel, Lag b’Omer is a time to get together with friends, barbecuing kebabs and marshmallows in forests, parks and deserts. Bonfires dot the landscape, accompanying campfire games and singing. Haredi youth, top, dance at the grave of Shimon Bar Yochai. A 3-year-old boy, above, sits atop his father’s shoulders for his first haircut. Orthodox worshippers, left, pray at Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave.