In the Jewish education world, the time period between the conclusion of Passover and Lag B' Omer is often referred to as the "Yom" season. The reason for this name is because over just one month’s time, we celebrate/commemorate Yom Hashoa, Rosh Chodesh Iyar, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Pesach Sheni, and Lag B’omer. With the arrival of Lag B' Omer this weekend, the "Yom" season will be coming to an end. As I mentioned above, the season is flanked by the destructive fires of the Holocaust, but ends with a different type of fire—the beautiful bonfires of Lag B'Omer. These bonfires represent the great light that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought to the world with his teachings of the Zohar. This celebration on his Yartzeit (anniversary of his passing), which also coincides with the thirty-third day of the omer, is celebrated with much fanfare, especially in Israel, and specifically to an even greater extreme in the town of Meron, where Rabbi Shimon is buried. Here is a clip from last year of some of the celebration at Meron on Lag B’omer (it gets exciting around 2 minutes in): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od2UgxAWIC4 I still have very vivid memories of visiting Meron on Lag B'Omer when I was studying in Israel for the year.
The bonfires of Lag B'Omer are truly an event to witness in Israel. As soon as the fires burning the chametz (leaven items) on the day before Passover are extinguished, the children of Israel begin collecting wood to burn for the night of Lag B'Omer. In the states, many people like to barbecue on Lag B'Omer, but that’s typical of us Americans; if it was a little warmer outside in December, we would probably barbecue latkes on Chanukah as well! Side bar— the average Israeli twenty-year-old believes the concept of barbecuing originated in Israel… It’s an interesting discussion to get into with an Israeli, but I digress.
In America, sixty-five is the age when we expect people to retire. I'm not sure if that still applies, but take that up with your local politician. We envision the age of sixty-five as an old man sitting on the porch in Florida, drinking a cool glass of lemonade, playing some golf and enjoying his grandchildren’s company for short spurts of time. Well, the state of Israel just celebrated their sixty-fifth birthday last week , and there is no sign of a receding hairline at all! Did you know that:
· In proportion to its population, Israel has the largest number of startup companies in the world. In absolute terms, Israel has the largest number of startup companies than any other country in the world, except the United States.
· Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.
· Israel is the only country in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees.
· Israeli scientists developed the first fully computerized, no-radiation, diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer.
· In response to serious water shortages, Israeli engineers and agriculturalists developed a revolutionary drip irrigation system to minimize the amount of water used to grow crops.
· The cell phone was developed in Israel by Motorola, which has its largest development center in Israel.
You can clearly see that, Israel, as the bumper sticker reads, “Is Real!!”
This past Shabbat I had the privilege of hosting a young man named Victor in my home for lunch. I met him in the beit midrash (study hall) at a local yeshiva, when he was wearing a very similar t-shirt to one that I own—a Birthright t-shirt displaying a large 13, signifying Birthright’s 13 years of existence, i.e. their bar mitzvah celebration year. Victor, who was raised in Florida with little Jewish upbringing, spent ten days this past summer in Israel on a Taglit Birthright trip. After returning to the states, he went back to Israel and spent another month studying at Yeshiva Aish Hatorah, and he is now studying in the beginners division of Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv! As Victor enjoyed a bowl of cholent in my home, inquisitively wondering what kishka is, he looked at me and said: " How can you not feel being Jewish in Israel!" Very true Victor, very true!
Enjoy your Lag B’omer, and by the way– the tradition in Israel on Israeli Independence Day is to… You guessed it! Barbecue! I wonder where they got that tradition from… ;)
Have a great month,
Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck