Authorities brace for huge Lag Ba’omer crowds at Meron

5,000 police to deploy in year's biggest security operation.

By RON FRIEDMAN
April 30, 2010 02:07
3 minute read.
Haredim carry their sons for their first haircuts

lag baomer meron 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Some 300,000 people will attend the Lag Ba’omer festivities on Mount Meron this year, the Israel Police said, calling it the biggest police operation of the year.

“The Lag Ba’omer celebration is the biggest operation on our annual calendar and is overseen by the Northern District commander in cooperation with the Traffic Branch,” Northern District Police spokesman Eran Shaked told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

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“This year in particular, since the holiday lands on Saturday [night], we expect an especially busy night, with everyone trying to get here at once.”

Shaked said that 5,000 police officers will be involved as well as hundreds more emergency personnel.

“We have 250 police cars and 150 motorcycles on the roads to assist in the flow of traffic and secure the area in Meron. Shabbat ends at around 8:30 p.m. and the main bonfire will be lit at 23:00. During those three and a half hours and those that follow, we expect an incredible peak of traffic as everyone tries to get here in time.”

The holiday, on the 33rd day after the beginning of Pessah, marks the end of the plague that decimated Rabbi Akiva’s students two millennia ago, and the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai – Akiva’s student and the author of the mystical work, the Zohar. Bar-Yohai is buried on Mount Meron.

According to Shaked, police presence will be felt along the main routes leading from haredi centers like Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Elad, to the Galilee.



“On site, the police will make every effort that things run smoothly. There are three large parking lots from where people can take free shuttles to the entrance of the site. In order to divide between vehicles and pedestrians, tunnels have been dug on the site so that people can walk safely without disrupting the traffic,” said Shaked.

Police have cleared the area to make sure it is empty of threats and set up security cameras to scan the area. An overhead surveillance balloon will provide additional security.

Shaked said there will be an abundance of uniformed, as well as plainclothes policemen to maintain order and assist in emergencies.

“We just completed an advanced briefing with all of the relevant authorities. The police is working in close cooperation and coordination with MDA and the Israel Fire and Rescue Service as well as emergency evacuation crews, and representatives of all other relevant authorities. We have a joint command post and will also be operating a joint service center and hotline which people can contact with any questions,” said Shaked.

The police spokesman said that entrance to the site is only permitted on foot and that no private vehicles will be allowed to enter. He also said that the police was taking a zero-tolerance approach to peddlers and hawkers, and that anyone found opening a stall or conducting commercial activities would be prosecuted.

“This year for the first time there will warning and direction signs printed in Hebrew and in Yiddish so that all the participants will understand them,” said Shaked.

The Egged bus company is also prepared for a long night. Egged said it scheduled 800 buses to make the trip to Meron and had enlisted an army of drivers, inspectors, attendants and maintenance workers.

To reduce the pressure Egged has been selling tickets in advance, via computerized sales points in haredi neighborhoods. Egged had announced that advance purchase was mandatory and that drivers would not be selling tickets.

Purchasers of tickets were given a voucher to receive 27-photo disposable camera.

Those who opted to forgo the Saturday night rush and spend the weekend in the north were faced with steep prices as rooms in the region were at a premium. According to Ma’ariv, a mattress on the floor of a room and even a vacated storage facility or poultry pen in Moshav Meron was going for NIS 100-250.

A bed in a shared room costs NIS 350-500. A private cottage goes for NIS 1,500-4,000 and a private house on the moshav was rented for NIS 28,000 for the weekend.

Those who wish to view the festivities from the comfort of their homes will be able to see a live stream of the action on the Internet at meron.mediacast.co.il.

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