Half a million Jews are expected to have made their way to Mount Meron on Saturday and Sunday as Shabbat gave way to Lag Ba’omer, when bonfires are lit to commemorate the Talmud-era day when a plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students ended.

Another of the rabbi’s students, Shimon Bar Yochai, survived the plague and went on to become, according to tradition, the author of the Zohar. Bar Yochai is also honored on Lag Ba’omer, with celebrations and torchlighting taking place at his burial spot on Mount Meron.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews made their way to the site on Saturday for the annual celebration, during which three-year-old boys receive their first haircuts.

Over 1,000 policemen were deployed at the site to ensure that the festivities were not marred by traffic jams or car accidents. They estimated that even as the Sabbath was waning 20,000 pilgrims had already arrived at the site.

Police will use surveillance cameras, helicopters and a blimp to watch over the celebrants throughout the holiday.

Days ahead of Lag Ba’omer the Egged bus cooperative made preparations for the mass pilgrimage, sending dozens of buses out from haredi-populated areas in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak to the Galilee.

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