Tens of thousands of people traveled to the tomb of the Mishnaic- era sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai at Meron in the Galilee Saturday night and Sunday for the celebrations of the Lag Ba’omer holiday.
The minor holiday commemorates the anniversary of bar Yochai’s death, as well as the day halting the period of semi-mourning between Passover and Shavuot for the death of 24,000 pupils of Rabbi Akiva in the Talmudic era.
Traffic flowed freely to the holy site, with the police attributing this to a policy introduced this year. In 2013, thousands of people got stuck in huge traffic jams and the police decided to ban private vehicles from reaching the site, with only public transport and private bus companies permitted to bring worshipers to Meron.
Haredi media attributed the lack of traffic jams to the fact that less people traveled to the site this year, although a police spokesman denied this.
Although the holiday began on Saturday night, the chief rabbinate officially postponed the celebrations to begin Sunday night to prevent people from preparing the holiday’s traditional bonfires on Shabbat. The haredi community nevertheless celebrated the holiday on the actual date.
Away from Meron, on Saturday night a few hundred haredi Lag Ba’omer revelers burnt Finance Minister Yair Lapid in effigy at a holiday bonfire in Tiberias on Saturday.
According to witnesses, the effigy of the Yesh Atid leader was hung on a post at the edge of the bonfire area as early as Friday afternoon, which suggests that its burning was planned ahead of time and was not merely a prank carried out in the heat of the moment. Lapid has been at the forefront of legislative efforts to draft haredim into military service.
One witness described the scene at the bonfire: “This was not a last minute incident. The doll with Lapid’s face pasted on it was ready by the fire. There were throngs of people who were present when the fire was lit, who cursed Lapid in Yiddish and danced.”
Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman condemned the burning of the leader of his party’s likeness on Sunday.
“It is an embarrassment for the entire Jewish people that hooligans and bullies like these wear a kippa and tzitzit. Their rabbis should wake up and speak out against this. And if they don’t then they are not worthy of being called leaders or rabbis. The place for these people is in jail!” Lipman said.
Yossi Oknin, a member of the Tiberias city council for the haredi Shas party, condemned the incident.
He said that it was the result of a prank by one child.
Oknin said that there was anger toward Lapid in the community, but he emphasized that the incident crossed all boundaries and must be forcefully condemned.
At other Lag Ba’omer fires in Meron and around the country more than 625 people required treatment by Magen David Adom by Sunday evening.
MDA said some of the injured were evacuated to Ziv Medical Center in Safed, not far from Meron. Several people were seriously hurt from burns, trauma and the excessive alcohol consumption.
MDA said it sent doctors, professional paramedics and medics, as well as volunteers, in advance on Friday morning to Meron, where several hundred thousand people camped out. Besides alcohol, falls, violence and other causes of harm, revelers suffered from smoke inhalation and hypothermia.
A 30-year-old man who fell from a balcony in Tel Aviv was rushed to hospital in serious condition.