Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews flocked to Mount Meron on Thursday for the start of Lag BaOmer holiday to celebrate the Yom Hillula (anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Some 200,000 people are expected to arrive and celebrate the holiday at the gravesite of 2nd-century Mishnaic sage and the author of the book "The Zohar" - on which the entire literature of Jewish mysticism is founded.
The Rebbe of Boyan, Nachum Dov Brayer, lit the traditional bonfire on Mount Meron at 8pm, signaling the official start of the Hillula and the beginning of the holiday across the country.
While the Rebbe of Boyan is the leader of a relatively small courtyard, for over a 100 years the privilege of lightning the first bonfire on has remained his.
After him, 15 more rabbis and rebbes who have received the privilege, were to light their own bonfires and celebrate with their congregations. Due to COVID restrictions, however, only ten thousand followers will be allowed to gather at the same time in each congregations.
Worshippers arrived in droves to Meron days before Lag BaOmer itself, in order to erect tents and ensure their spot during the celebration. Consequently, the roads leading to the mountain have been blocked, and entry to the tomb complex by private car has been prohibited.
In addition to the 5,000 police officers who will secure the celebration, Magen David Adom, Fire and Rescue, ZAKA and United Hatzalah will also be present at Mount Meron to provide security and services to the hundreds of thousands present.
Police said that enforcing the Green Pass regulations - according to which only those inoculated or recovering can participate in mass gatherings - in an event of this magnitude is impossible. Police did however ask the Hasidim to ensure that only those who have a Green Pass will arrive via shuttles and buses.
Despite the lack of enforcement during the celebration itself, police added that all those wishing to visit and pray at the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, can do so but under certain rules.
"All those entering the grave site will be asked to enter and leave quickly and not to linger, in order to allow other believers who are waiting to enter the place,” said the police.