Grand rabbi sparks up bonfire for smaller Meron crowd following somber memorial

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

The head of the Boyan Hassidic sect has lit the ceremonial bonfire on Mount Meron by the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, kicking off the festivities of Lag B’Omer for the 16,000 pilgrims currently allowed the site.

The ceremony this year is far different than it has been in the past, following last year’s deadly disaster in which 45 men and boys were trampled to death. Thousands more people are waiting down the mountain, barred from entry until people leave, due to a strictly enforced capacity of 16,000 people.

Worshipers on Mount Meron for Lag B’Omer on May 18, 2022. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Following the lighting, a klezmer band launches into a medley of classic tunes, most about the mystical Bar Yochai, who is believed to have died on Lag B’Omer, and instructed his followers to celebrate the anniversary of his death.

The lighting of the bonfire came after a more somber ceremony commemorating the 45 people killed last year and a recitation of evening prayers.

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