With my kids now old enough to tend their own bonfires, I was going to Meiron. What was so special about that place that attracted hundreds of thousands each year. Now would be my chance to find out.
I boarded the charter bus at 11:30 pm.–one hundreds of charter busses making the trek, We’d get to Meron by 2 am, prime time I was told by Meron cognoscenti.
Just before I left, two friends phoned with names of family members they wanted me to daven for.
“You’re making a mistake. I’m not a chassidic rebbe,” .
“At L’ag Bomer at Meiron you can’t know what your prayers can do.”
I scribbled the names onto a post it and stuck it into my siddur. Maybe?
At 2 am Meron was as bustling as the Malcha mall at midday. Except for me, everyone was young. The average age seemed to be about 16, . .
At the entrace was a bazaar, with stand for pictures of Holy men, hotdogs even medicinal Arak and beggars soliciting to a variety of causes..
. Jewish music was blasting from speakers and everyone was moving, a huge crowd on its way somewhere. But where?
The center of the action was the grave. I followed the crowd there but I there were so many people making their way to the monument that I feared I might topple over or knock someone else down.
I left. Instead I’d find a perch above the grave. That was blocked too but by now I noticed that there were other centers of action–the impromtu Chassidic courts, with bleachers and hundreds of men dancing round bonfires constructed from ashcans stuffed with paper and ignited with lighter fluid.
The dancing men were, chassidim, yeshiva students in black and white dress and men wearing colors. Together they formed a human wave, bobbing up and down to tunes celebrating the Torah and of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
The women watched from above. Some swayed to the music .Others were tended to young children, even new babies.who they had brought along to absorb the holiness .
Here and there,was toddler sporting a new haircut and brand new payes–Lag B’omer is a tradtional time for the first haircut and Meiron is often the chosen location.
Though I did pass women praying, I wondered how they could concentrate in a noisy crowd.
Was there a quiet spot here to pray?
As I walked up and down the alleyways, the gravesite seemed to grow noisier and more crowded with the late hour –it was now close to 4 am,..
Ready to collaspe I had almost despaired of finding a place to pray. Just let me sit down. I need to sit, I told myself.
On a hillside above the action I noticed a large stone staircase where a twentysomething chassidic woman had planted herself along with her two angelic daughters one of whom was asleep in a blanket her mother had obviously packed with this is mind. Dimly lit, the spot was not completely still–complete silence isn’t on the agenda in Meron at Lag B’Omer but it was quiet enough for me to pray.
“Is there something special to say,” I asked the Chassidic women..
She handed me a book of women’s prayers with a special selection for L’ag B’Omer at Meron. It was a kind of all purposer prayer–a request for blessing, health, peace with one’s enemies, success in Torah learning for one’s children, anything that anyone could possibly wanted. I recited slowly, mouthing each word as a meditation.
Around me were other women, all types of Jewish women occupied with their own prayers all of us together in that velvety transcendent darkness .
Soon the sun would rise.We’d return to our busses and our homes but on that stony hillside for those few moments we felt what Rabbi Shimon had said so many millenia before that “the Jewish people are the children of angels.”