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Northern Lights

Hadas Afik

These women, who live in Meron year-round, wouldn’t have it any other way. Because once Rabi Shimon has summoned you, there’s no turning back

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

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“Here there’s no Vizhnitz or Gur or Breslov, there’s no Moroccan or Litvish or Yemenite. Everyone sits on the same bench with no differences between them. And that’s what’s so heartwarming with Rabi Shimon. Because Rabi Shimon pulls everyone here and accepts everyone”

"S omeone called me on Lag B’omer morning — I have no idea how she got my phone number — but she asked if she could come here to rest,” remembers Bracha Bolton, who has lived in Meron for over ten years. “Of course, I told her she could come, and I offered to pick her up from the grocery store. When I got there, I saw another woman who also asked if she could come. I was happy to help, and the two women came and rested in our bedroom.

“A few hours later, I knocked on the door — we needed the room! — only to see that one of them had rearranged the furniture and her belongings, as if she were planning on staying for a while. And she ended up staying by us for the rest of the week — and then longer and longer, until we were sure that she’d decided to stay with us permanently. After two months, she finally packed up and left.”

It’s a wild story, but it barely raises in eyebrow in Meron, where inhabitants are used to opening their homes and hearts — and bedrooms! — to the thousands upon thousands of visitors who travel to the quiet town in northern Israel. Secular Israelis in search of salvation, seminary students traversing the country, American businessmen loathe to close a big deal before seeking Rabi Shimon’s approval — all pour out their hearts near the ancient kever of the Tanna Rabi Shimon bar Yochai.

By living in Meron, says Rabbanit Aliza Peretz, she has become an emissary of Rabi Shimon. “Rabi Shimon has such incredible power that he can bring thousands of people to him and unite them under one roof. Here there’s no Vizhnitz or Ger or Breslov, there’s no Moroccan or Litvish or Yemenite. Everyone sits on the same bench with no differences between them. And that’s what’s so heartwarming with Rabi Shimon. Because Rabi Shimon pulls everyone here and accepts everyone.”

It was that pull that brought Rabbanit Peretz to Meron, 28 years ago — for just one year. “My husband told me, ‘Stay here for a year and then tell me if you want to leave,’ ” Rabbanit Peretz remembers. “The year ended, and there were no more questions. I said to my husband, ‘We’re not going back. A bulldozer couldn’t move me.’ Someone who loves Rabi Shimon can’t leave.”

It’s that love for Rabi Shimon that transforms the village each year, as thousands of Jews descend upon Meron for Rabi Shimon’s hilulah on Lag B’omer — a night of spirited dancing, lusty singing, and fervent prayer.

It’s a night that many claim brought them salvation, a night many cite as pivotal to their entire year’s spiritual growth. And like all good things, it doesn’t come easy.

 

Preparing for the Big Night

“I begin preparing for Lag B’omer in Teves,” Bracha says. “We have a giant chicken coop in our yard that came with the house. Starting in Teves, we fix it up so we can use it to house the dozens of guests we have on Lag B’omer. We also erect tents in our yard, and everyone sits outside, learning, singing, and having farbrengens.

“One year, at 5 a.m., when everyone had finally gone to sleep, it started pouring. Our guests got up and helped my husband schlep all the mattresses and blankets into the house, but everything was already soaked. From then on, we learned our lesson, and prepared another sheltered area.”

The Zelikowitzes, another Meron family, also have guesthouses they rent out. “They’re fully occupied all year long, baruch Hashem, but when it comes to Lag B’omer, they’re usually reserved several months, or even a year, in advance,” says Miri Zelikowitz. “Sometimes one person will rent all the apartments, and then he sublets them to other people.”

The Zelikowitzes also have a large shed that they use to store medical equipment they lend out. On Lag B’omer, they clear out the shed and fill it with pillows, blankets, and mattresses. Miri says that dozens of friends and relatives, for whom she prepares meals, sleep in the shed. 

 

Called by Rabi Shimon

“The most incredible thing to see is that there are people who are just called by Rabi Shimon — and then he arranges a place for them to sleep in Meron,” Miri recounts. “There are times when we’re completely full. I’ve told literally 500 people that we have no room. Then suddenly, the thought occurs to me — Maybe we should rent out a room in our house? And then, someone calls me, and after I’ve said no to everyone, I suddenly say yes to him. Wouldn’t you say that Rabi Shimon is calling him?

“…during the year, whenever things get hard, I say to myself, ‘You saw how everyone danced in honor of Hashem. What does Hashem want from you now?’ And then, I immediately hurry to do what I have to. Because how can I not?”

“One year I suddenly remembered that we have a small shed next to the house that wasn’t in use. It was strange that I hadn’t thought of it earlier, but I just walked outside and told the first woman who asked, that yes, we did still have some sleeping space available. I felt like I merited being Rabi Shimon’s emissary to help her.”

Meron is always packed on Lag B’omer, but on the years that Lag B’omer falls out on Shabbos, Miri says that the town is even more crowded, as visitors flock to Meron beginning Thursday night and stay until Sunday night.

“It’s a very moving sight,” Miri says. “You can walk out of the house on Leil Shabbos and see how the whole yishuv is full and you have to literally find room to walk. All the playgrounds, all the paths — they’re all full of tents and mattresses. All along the way, as you walk up to the kever you see benches with wool blankets on them and bags beside them. It’s heartwarming to see how many Jews want to come and stay near the tzaddik.”

Immediately following Shabbos, Miri says, there is relative quiet in Meron. “Only people who were in Meron for Shabbos can get to the kever right away. It takes everyone else at least an hour and a half until they get here. I usually use the time to go to the kever and daven, because I know that’ll be impossible later on.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 590)

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