Lag B’Omer

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posted in the neighborhood, an invitation by a youth group to join the group in a great bonfire in honor of the holiday this evening at 7:00 p.m.

Today, Lag B’Omer according to the Jewish calendar, is a very peculiar Jewish holiday. For one thing, it is not a Sabbath type holiday, and for another, it is not mentioned in the bible. But it is certainly an important holiday, and celebrated throughout Israel. Yesterday evening, the sounds of drums made their way through our living room window, and coming to the window we peered out at the numerous bonfires in the fields between our home and the state park in the distance.

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bonfires on the eve of lag b’omer

The holiday is woven into the very fabric of the Jewish life style; it is part of Jewish consciousness, and can only be understood well, if one is knowledgeable regarding Bible, Jewish history, agriculture, mysticism, and social norms. So I will not try to explain this holiday… just to tell you a little about it from my point of view, after having warned you that there is a lot more here than I have told you. The holiday occurs in the middle or at the end of a mourning period (there are different ways of looking at this). The general period is that of the count, between Passover and Shavuoth… which is a count of 49 days. Passover celebrates the coming out of slavery, and Shavuoth celebrates the giving of the Torah, our bible, and our law. Shavuoth is also a harvest fest, and is also one of the three ‘leg’ holidays, on which Jews would come from all over the country to bring sacrifices to the holy temple.

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During the time of the Roman occupation of Israel, there was a revolt of the Jews against the Romans that failed. The leader of this revolt was Bar Kochba, who was beloved and admired by Rabbi Akiva who was a sage, and one of the shining lights of talmudic study around the time of the destruction of the temple, about two thousand years ago. During this revolt, 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students were killed, and only five survived. One of these, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, is considered the greatest authority on mysticism, and this is the day of his death… a day which is not meant for mourning but for celebration.

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During this holiday, it is customary to build bonfires, and to cook potatoes in these fires; to play with bows and arrows, to sing and rejoice, and best of all, to get married. Many couples wait for this day to get married, and all over the country there are marriages with great celebrations. It is also a day in which it is customary to give the first haircut to a young boy, at the age of three. We usually don’t give a haircut to a child who is less than three years.

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There is a mountain called Meron in the Galilee, where the grave of Shimon bar Yochai is found, and 250,000 people are there celebrating today, lighting candles, and giving haircuts, and building campfires. I have visited this place myself on this holiday, and one of these days, I will publish some of my photography from the occasion. The photographs in this post are all from Jerusalem, and most are from my own neighborhood.

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52 responses to “Lag B’Omer

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Wow, Shimon, I don’t know why you turn off comments! I checked out a few posts – particularly the poison one, & loved them 🙂 Loved the sitting down at the stone table for a drink at the end.

    As for this one – again excellent. This one has me wonder is ‘Shimon’ a common name in your land? I wouldn’t know. Don’t know if you know, but John or David is common here. Daniel (my son’s name) is fairly common, but in truth, I could not think of anything as suitable to him, from the very first breath.

    Great photo Shimon, & write-up 🙂

    • Actually, Noeleen, I’ve been turning off the comments when I just posted a picture… thinking I didn’t want to trouble people to respond all the time. But maybe it was poor judgment. I’ll see what happens when I leave the comments on. Shimon is a very common name here in Israel. He was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, and so he has a lot of descendants here. I was named after a grandfather, and I have three cousins who carry the same name, though each has a nickname too. The English call the name Simon or Simeon, but I don’t think it’s that common. Glad you liked the photos.

  2. Very interesting post.

  3. I’ve enjoyed reading about this post very much: it reminds me of how alike we all are, regardless of our particular cultures and religions or the place we live, as bonfires seem to be a very popular way to celebrate a special day in many countries. I hope you all had a wonderful time, Shimonz, and thank you for sharing a little bit of your history and customs with us.

    • I often see nations and peoples like individual people… like brothers and sisters. Sometimes, when we get to know two sisters, we can barely tell them apart. But inside the family, there may be great feuds or tensions between the brothers or sisters, and their closeness just brings out the minor differences with greater power. In the same way, in northern Europe, they used to say that all Negroes look alike… because they didn’t know them. But the better we get to know people, the more we become aware of the subtle differences. I suppose that what we have to do is learn the nature of each nation while remembering all the time those characteristics that are similar in all human beings. Thank you so much for your comment, Fatima.

  4. Oh if you didn’t explain this was a Jewish holiday … and that it was called Lag B’Omer, I might have assumed it was from India, where we have several of these wonderful celebrations. Normally after a period of austerity. And we celebrate that first haircut too … we call it “mundan”. At about three years of age as well.

    I know I would love Lag B’Omer as well. I have leaned so much from your posts … so much I never knew about Judaism. A lot which was new to me, but more which seems so similar to what I’ve experienced in India, it is like coming home. Thanks so much for these wonderful posts … full of knowledge and light and beauty.

    Shalom.

    • Just like I said in my comment: there seems to be a lot of these festivals all over the world. Isn’t it wonderful how similar we all are, despite our differences? I love being human!

    • It seems to me no coincidence that you find many similarities between our culture, and what you found in India. For we are both ancient cultures… and it seems to me that ancient cultures are more aware of the subtleties and the needs of an individual coming into this world. There is a different pace of life. Personally, I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting India, but my children have, and they liked it very much. Thank you very much for your comment, Nikki.

  5. Reblogged this on See what you think and commented:
    You must see these wonderful photos

  6. Fascinating post Shimon. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I too, am learning. Never heard of this holiday. Makes me wonder exactly how many holidays you have in a years time. Are there any that are held at longer, like every 2 years or every 5 years. And why wait till age three to cut a childs hair? As always, Shimon, your posts are intriguing.

    • Yes, we do have a lot of holidays, Bob, and we even laugh at ourselves because there are so many. I’ve always said that I like holidays so much, I’m quite willing to adopt some holidays of other peoples too. For instance, we have at least three new years in one year. The official new year of the Jewish calendar, and then the new year of the months, which is in spring, and we also have a new year of the trees. But there are three major holidays, which are the holidays of the pilgrimage, when all the Jews used to come from all over Israel to visit Jerusalem. These are Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. And then there is the high holy days, which are our New Year and the day of Atonement. Aside from those, there are a number of little holidays, like Hanukah and Purim, which are not treated as Sabbaths.

  8. Shimon, this is a wonderful post. I truly enjoyed learning about the holiday, and seeing the celebrations. Traditions are so important, as they are integral parts of who we are. Thank you.

    • I am so glad to hear there is interest in our holidays, Ann. I often wonder what would be interesting to people reading my blog, and find it hard to guess. What you say is very true for our people, at least. The traditions keep us together, and often bring us back to an even pace, when life gets too exciting… Thanks for your comment.

  9. One of the things I enjoy about these posts that share bits and pieces of your culture is that you’re always careful to mention that (a) this is from your perspective, and (b) there is much more to the story. Still, the fact that you take the time to share some information that helps those of us that are not familiar with the Jewish faith … well, it continually opens up my eyes and has helped me develop a very respectful attitude towards other faiths, and specifically, towards the Jewish faith. All too often people focus on their differences, but your posts help underline our commonalities; even though our traditions or religious beliefs may be quite different, we are all people that are connected to a framework of family and neighbors, living a life, and celebrating our traditions and beliefs. In that sense, we are very much the same. Thank you for sharing another glimpse into your daily life.

    • As I mentioned in answer to another comment above, There are great similarities between nations, just as there are between individual people. But sometimes, the closer we get, the more the nuances and the subtleties matter, and that’s when we begin to argue and fight, and lose the sense of the common good and the ties between us as human beings. It’s both ironic and frustrating, but we keep trying. I’m very glad you enjoy these posts on our people and culture. That is what I’ve always hoped for, writing a blog that is seen outside of my own country, that it’ll help towards mutual understanding. Thanks for your comment, N.

  10. Dear Shimon,
    Thank you for sharing Lag B’Omer with us. What a fascinating celebration, so rich in history and tradition. I really look forward to seeing the photographs of your journey to Meron.

    • Very glad you found it interesting, Naomi. I often wonder what is worth telling about, and fear that there’s a bit too much about our religion for people living in other cultures… I get the feeling that religion is very unpopular these days… but I try to give a picture of what my life, and the life of my people is all about.

  11. I couldn’t resist this post when I saw the title. I have participated in two of these evenings. The first one, I helped a mature orthodox woman climb the rough hill to a bonfire in the darkness. She was frightened of tripping if she tried to climb on her own. Apart from being happy that she had been offered female company- foreign though it was – to join her group of family and friends, I was delighted to find I could exchange easy social conversation with her in my own language. I look back and reflect just how natural it all was. We were both content.

    On both occasions I was very much a bystander and observer. I had already eaten with friends, so, there was little room for fire-baked potatoes, if I had been lucky enough to get one.

    The daytime processions of families to picnics, also celebrations at a tomb, was another delight to see.

    • I’m so glad you had these experiences, Menhir. And I am sure it was all the more interesting that you had the opportunity to communicate with one of the celebrants in English. I had a similar experience, many years ago, when I was traveling in America, and had the opportunity to be present at an Indian Rain Dance. An American Indian had invited me, and the two of us spoke English, but I was the only non Indian at this affair, and it was a little like discovering a new world. I remember it with affection after all these years.

  12. It sounds fun, and lovely, and I do like the pictures – the treatment of darkness and light reminds me of some of the ‘old masters’ – Rembrandt, for instance.

  13. Another interesting insight into another culture!

  14. I love your posts….especially about your culture and the why’s and how’s of what happens. I’d never heard of this holiday either. I think WordPress has a like button you can turn on for those posts you don’t what the comments on and your readers can click that to at least let you know they appreciate the post. I just wish there was one of these for some of your comments because you have readers that leave such informative comments 😉

    • Thank you very much, Linda. Since I do post at least once a week, I figure there’s room enough to comment. But after getting a number of messages on this issue, I will reconsider my attitude towards comment. In any case, I do very much appreciate the comments I get on this blog. Since I’m not talented in ‘mannered’ conversation, I particularly enjoy those who relate to the subjects at hand, and especially, those who have something to teach me.

  15. I appreciate learning about the Jewish culture from you!!!!

  16. Oh, Shimon, I loved learning about Lag B’Omer, even a little. I wasn’t familiar with this holiday. The photographs are beautiful; they tantalized and pulled me in, and I spent a long time with them. I hadn’t been receiving your posts, so I hope I fixed that with my WordPress settings and will receive them in my e-mail again.

    • Hi there Kitty. Glad you liked the post. I thought you’d grown tired of me, so I’m glad to hear that it was just a problem with the notices. Always glad to hear from you. And I hope you’re enjoying fine spring weather these days.

  17. Very interesting post. I really love your photography, Shimon.

  18. Fascinating, Shimon. I always learn so much from your posts. Thank you.

  19. I enjoyed reading this and seeing the pictures. Must look amazing with all the fires burning in the night! I like hearing about how you celebrate everything and give some background about it. I particularly thought the thing about considering nations as brothers and sisters and the similarities being there but leaving the differences accentuated and something to scrap fiercely over – I really thought that a good analogy!

    • Thank you, Lilo. Glad you liked the post. It is amazing to see al the bonfires, and it gives the young an opportunity to experience a life style that goes back thousands of years… for a few hours they manage without the computer and TV, and cook over an open fire. Of course, there are those who are very critical, and tell us that the amount of air pollution increases nine fold during the holiday. But the majority is still in favor of the traditional celebration.

  20. How extraordinary! I was down in a part of St Kilda where a lot of Jewish people have businesses and live too and saw a sign indicating there was a Lag b’Omer festival that weekend….I asked the bus driver (I was using the community bus, free to all citizens) and he didn’t know. Thank you for the explanation. Next time I see it, I’ll attend the celebrations, to see for myself. I doubt, however, that they would have had bonfires in this very busy urban area.

    • They might have had one bonfire, or at least a symbolic bonfire… but there are many ways to celebrate the holiday, as you will probably see when you attend next year. Glad you liked the post. There is so much to tell about this holiday, that I didn’t get to it all, but it is a lot of fun. Thanks for your comment, Janina.

  21. Oh I LOVED this post, and I love finding out more and more of your rich and diverse culture.

    The thought of the drums and bonfires had my heart pounding…..the pics are fabulous!!! I wish I was there!!!xxxx

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed this one, Dina. And you’ve reminded me that I was going to post a picture of a drum… maybe today. Thanks.

  22. Insightful, educational and entertaining – glad I found your blog.

    David.

  23. To celebrate the death of an authority on mysticism…with bonfires…shooting arrows…eating potatoes…singing and rejoicing. Complex and layered, and rich with history and meaning. Fire and mysticism…
    Well, it’s a little like you and your blog, richly layered, at times mystical, certainly down to earth, and those arrows are shooting all over the world. A good thing.

    • You know, I often wonder if I talk too much about our culture and religion, because I have the impression that the younger generation of today has little patience with such things as religion, tradition, and mysticism. But sometimes it’s just part of our life here, and so I share it. Thank you for your comment, Lynn.

  24. No! I may be mistaken but get the feeling that many people who are reading blogs are hungry for information about cultures different from their own. Before we all become homogenized, let’s not forget our interesting differences.

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