Lag Ba’Omer will be different this year

Most Haredim who usually travel to Israel will celebrate Lag Ba’Omer in New York as Israel cancels Meron.

Orthodox Jews in Meron on Lag Baomer. Credit: iStockPhoto/RnDmS

May 24, 2024 10:45 AM


Lag Ba’Omer which falls on May 26 this year, a month after Pesach, is a major celebration for the Haredi community. It's a chance to sing, dance, wear new clothes, and get haircuts after weeks of not doing so, as is customary in Orthodox communities. And this year the festivities in the New York area will be bigger than usual.

That’s because most years thousands of Haredim from the New York area head to the far north of Israel to participate in the festivities at Mount Meron. For a single day every year, the burial site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai becomes the site of a massive festival where up to 100,000 Orthodox Jews dance, pray, eat, drink, and light bonfires through the night.

Already a site of pilgrimage throughout the year, on Lag Ba’Omer – which is also the anniversary of bar Yochai’s death – the rabbi’s grave hosts what Haaretz has called “the biggest religious festival of the year in Israel.” 

But almost no one is making the trip this year. 

The IDF has issued warnings about the dangers posed by rocket fire coming from Hezbollah terrorists over the nearby Lebanese border in solidarity with their fellow Hamas terrorists. And high airfares are another deterrent, as most airlines suspended service to Israel after Oct. 7, causing El Al’s prices to soar. 

Two travel agents who work with Brooklyn’s Haredi communities and requested Shtetl not use their names both said that they expect almost no one from New York will travel to visit Mount Meron this year. “98% of people are probably not going” to Israel because of the government’s warning, said a travel agent in Borough Park referring to  the fact that the Knesset passed an emergency bill closing the gravesite.

That means many more Haredi Jews will stay local, celebrating Lag Ba’Omer at the bonfires, parties and parades in their own communities.

In Crown Heights, many Chabad Hasidim are making the most of the situation. Mount Meron might be closed, but a big Israel-themed Lag Ba’Omer parade will express solidarity with the nation during its war. According to local Haredi media, the parade will include not only rides, marching bands, and jugglers, but also an “Upsherin Float in Meron,” a display that will presumably seek to emulate the Israel experience by doubling as an al-fresco barber shop for the toddlers. 

Chabad centers elsewhere in New York will host events of their own. In Boro Park, several roads will be closed as usual as different segments of the community each hold their own bonfires, according to the Haredi news outlet Boro Park 24. A new celebration in Queens – the Mega Lag Ba’Omer – hopes to take advantage of a larger catchment than usual and will feature music, a magician, rides, and giveaways.

Indeed, throughout the region, bonfires and festivities are being advertised starting motzei shabbat on May 25 and stretching throughout Sunday. From upstate Monsey in Rockland County – where, at one charity event, popular Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer is playing a free concert – and Kiryas Joel in Orange County, down through Williamsburg, Borough Park and many in New York City, all the way to Lakewood in New Jersey.

But, though most New York Haredim will be home for this Lag Ba’Omer, the power of Mount Meron is still available. As a concession to its importance to the Haredi community and at a scale that the IDF can protect, the Israeli government is allowing a single central fire and two smaller ones nearby, as well as 30 people at a time to enter the gravesite to visit and pray. And several organizations are offering prayers at “the kever” as a service to those who can’t be there in person, often for a donation.