It’s a truly amazing thing to be a part of a massive and holy pilgrimage like the one on lag be’omer to the kever of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It was my first time, and I was extraordinarily excited. The crowds started a long while before we got to Meron, when the bus we were on sat in traffic for hours. All around us, front and back, thousands of vehicles were heading to one destination: Rashbi. The other side of the highway, heading back, was eerily empty. Nobody was going, just coming, coming, coming.
We arrived at the parking lot. The bus backed into a sea of buses. As my fellow passengers and I disembarked, we all headed in the same direction. Nobody had to tell me where to go. The streaming masses of people were enough of a guide. We walked through the temporary pathways that had been erected for the occasion, separate sides for men and women.
We walked under a tunnel and approached the beginnings of the crowds. The scene was surreal, like a cross between a holy pilgrimage and a street fair. The first group I saw were the Lubavitchers. The huge picture of the Rebbe was looming over the crowd, as if watching his chassidim as they handed out pamphlets. I then saw the Na-Nachs. Their music was loud and their dancing was joyous. I watched incredulously as they pulled a total stranger into their dancing circle.
My eyes continued to take in the sights and sounds. Loudspeakers proclaimed various slogans for all to hear. I listened as somebody hawked the Chai Rotel Mashke, promising “yeshuot olam” for all who partake in this holy tradition. To my left, a radio station has set up a booth where they were broadcasting live from the crowds. To my right, there was a hatzalah booth where one can go and register their children, and in event of separation, find them again. Booths all over were offering the travelers all kinds of drinks and food. And amazingly, all for free. Individuals who wanted to partake in the mitzvah of serving people at Rashbi’s kever got into the act too. A girl offered us cups of juice from her bottle, and another begged us to take some raisins and almonds from her tray.
Meanwhile, all we wanted was to get into the ohel, to daven close to R’ Shimon. Again, it wasn’t hard to figure out where to go; we simply followed the masses of humanity streaming towards the kever of the holy tzaddik. As we approached, I continued to observe the variety of yidden who’d come. The man with the long hair, the woman with the colorful dreadlocks. People often broke into spontaneous dancing as the music belted out tunes often sang on simchas torah. Two women, both clad in long flowing skirts and what seemed like hundreds of scarves, joyously danced as the crowds streamed past them.
As we descended the final set of steps to reach the women’s side of the kever, we began to feel the need to push. Entrance to the kever was determined by who was the pushiest and most determined. I never actually realized just how single minded I could be until then. I just pushed, I didn’t care if some lady told me “af echad yachol likaneis.” I was going to do it. And I did. I finally reached the entrance to the kever. In front of me, faces were buried in siddurim; behind me, women pushed. Finally, I got in. The holiness was palpable. Even the children seemed to sense the extreme kedusha that surrounded us.
Not from from the kever was a tent called “hachnosas orchim rashbi.” The kindness on all sides was so impressive, so amazing, yet still I couldn’t get over the way someone had set up a tent, just for the purpose of providing hot food and cold drinks for the yidden at meron. Contrasting it with the non-jewish events I’ve been to or heard about, where people capitalize on the crowds, charging an arm and a leg for a bite to eat, and this chesed only increased in impressiveness.
I continued to observe the crowds, the people behind the unified mass of yidden. The little boy, clearly needing a bed, yet sporting a long pony tale that would be cut off in just a few hours. The solitary man, wheeling a suitcase, probably planning to camp out for the night at meron. The languages that swirled around my head were numerous. I recognized English, Yiddish and Hebrew, but there were many I did not recognize. Sefardim joined with Ashkenazim, chasidim joined with litvaks, modern and chareidi and even non frum, people joined together, davening, singing, dancing. And, it seemed, that was the major theme that played out in Meron last night. Achdus. Walking together, davening together, unified in our desire to invoke the zechusim of Rebbi Shimon. Not me, not you, but simply, us. Everyone together.