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.
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.
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.
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.
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.