I went to Meron because my son was turning 3 and his birthday fell out close to Lag Baomer. Honestly, I really wanted to to go because I knew it would be a lot of fun. And it was. My father and my father in-law go to Meron every year so it turned out to be a huge family party. In Brooklyn, it would have been a lame birthday party where everyone would just gather around my overwhelmed son and he would probably have wound up crying hysterically. But in Meron it’s different. It is spiritual, grada, but it’s so much more than just an upsherin, it’s an experience.
Lag Baomer that year fell out on a Wednesday. We arrived in Israel in Monday and went up North right away. That first night we slept in Kibbutz Lavie - geshmak. We had a delicious breakfast and then, on the kibbutz was a farm, and my son was thrilled to be able to go and milk the cows. After the cows, we headed over to Tzfat to be mispallel by the Ari Hakadosh. We davened, we went to the mikvah, and then we headed for Meron where we had rented an apartment so we could sleep close by. All around Meron there are pop up hachnosas orchim places that have Mehadrin food. So we ate and then just hung around until night when we could go up the mountain to the bonfire.
We got there in time for the Boyaner fire. I didn’t even see the rebbe and it didn’t matter. Everyone dances, music is blasting, people are singing. There are chassidim everywhere but also modern and frye, dancing together. Dancing all night. At about 1 am I had to take my exhausted son back to the apartment to put him to sleep. He had a big day coming up. In the morning, we went to daven, and there are minyanim everywhere. At around 12:00 in the afternoon, all the kids gather in one place to do the haircuts. There are literally hundreds of little 3 year old boys getting their first haircut. If you ever do this, make sure you bring your own electric shaver. If you don’t have one you could probably find one or borrow from someone, but best to have your own stuff. We had the razor, scissors, and of course, lots of candy. My son was the biggest trouper ever. He loved it. He was dancing around looking like a big boy with his payos and tzitzis. I couldn’t stop taking videos of him doing the 3 year old version of dancing which is basically jumping up and down to the music. And he did not stop.
I had rented a space ahead of time to have a party because my whole family was there. Nothing fancy, some herring and liver. A little alcohol. We learned Aleph bais with my son and then went back out join the celebration that was still going on. Back to dancing all afternoon. This was the most fun part of the whole experience because at this point all the pressure was off. We did the upsherin which turned out even better than planned. After dancing for a while, I pushed myself in and got very close to the kever to daven. Late at night we finally made it back to the apartment. We were able to order dinner from a store in Tzfat that does take out to Meron.
In the morning (Friday) we woke up and drove down to Yerushalayim to spend shabbos with extended family. I definitely want to do it again with my second son. It was an incredible experience. The second time around I am going to do it differently, though. Next time, I want to just go with my wife and kids and avoid the whole extended family party. It was a lot to organize and some of the stress of putting together the event was unnecessary. A few things I also didn’t realize that knowing ahead of time would have been helpful:. Firstly, we got to the hair cutting a little late. There is an organized event at 12 pm, where all the little boys get their haircut and they give out pekalach and dance. We missed most of that party and were more on our own. Also communication was a mess. Basically, when you get to Meron you can close your cell phone, because there is no service. If I had known ahead of time, I would have made arrangements with my family to coordinate meet-up times. Luckily my wife was there. She managed to figure everything out, she made sure that everything ran smoothly, and ensured that both my son and I had a Lag Ba'omer to remember.