In Jewish Law, Lag B'Omer, the 18th day of the Jewish month of Iyar and 33 (the numerical value of the letters lamed = 30, and gimel = 3) days after Passover Day, is a cessation of the semi-mourning restrictions between Passover and Shavuot. Weddings, haircuts, and listening to live music all become permitted. It is a joyful occasion, upon which many have the custom to light large bonfires at night and to go on excursions to the countryside in the day.

Lag B'Omer in Meron

Meron is a sleepy mountain village a few miles west of Safed that once a year undergoes a remarkable transformation. Each year on Lag B'Omer, more than 250,000 Jews of all descriptions converge upon it from all parts of the country. The highway is closed and traffic rerouted, as the whole area is covered with tents and vans for miles around. Enormous bonfires are honor of the shining spiritual light Rebbe Shimon

In Jewish Law, Lag B'Omer is a cessation of the semi-mourning restrictions between Passover and Shavuot, but this massive pilgrimage is for an entirely different reason. Lag B'Omer is the "celebration" day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the legendary author of the Zohar, whose burial site is on Mount Meron. Although Lag B'Omer is the anniversary of his death, in accordance with his express wishes, it is treated as an occasion of great joy.

The rejoicing takes many forms (the reactions "most sublime" to "Jewish Woodstock!" have both been overheard). At night, many Sephardim recline in huge tents over multi-course dinners and live music, and during the day, dozens of sheep are kosher-slaughtered, barbecued, and consumed. Throughout the night and day, hundreds or even thousands of three-year-old boys, Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike, receive their first haircuts and peyot. All over, people are camping, picnicking, and partying…

In the evening, enormous bonfires are kindled on the roof of the domed building, in honor of the shining spiritual light Rabbi Shimon brought into the world. For the entire 24 hours, groups of whirling Chassidim, with fervor unusual even for them, dance near the fires or in the courtyard below, singing over and over the infectious traditional songs in praise of Rabbi Shimon.

Within the castle-like structure built upon the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, the small room reserved for men (the main room is used primarily by women) reverberates. Individuals and small groups study Zohar and recite Psalms, while the dense crowds continuously flowing into the room struggle to reach the tomb. A strong tradition exists that anyone who prays sincerely "at Rabbi Shimon", especially on Lag B'Omer, will be answered.

The steep winding path that leads to the tomb is tightly lined by booths. Many are manned by representatives of yeshivas and other worthy causes, and people cheerfully donate "in the merit of" Rabbi Shimon. Further away, vendors hawking all sorts of merchandise dominate the main thoroughfares.

All over, people are camping, picnicking, and partying, and often it seems easy to lose sight of the original religious nature of the celebration, or even consider it a contradiction. Yet stories are recorded of several Torah authorities who intended to prohibit attendance due to the "unboundedness" of the celebrating, until Rabbi Shimon appeared to them in dreams, saying not to dare diminish his day of joy.

Lag B'Omer in Meron is a basic component of the Israel experience. While some participants may be more "tuned in" than others, as far as Rabbi Shimon is concerned, all Jews are welcome, so long as the effort is made to be joyful. See you there!