So, what is Lag BaOmer? The Omer period, the 50 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is a sacred time of year for religious Jews, in which many activities such as weddings are forbidden. It commemorates the 50 days the Israelites wandered in the desert before receiving the commandments. Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day, is an exception, and it’s considered an especially auspicious date to get married, and to give your son his first haircut.
Lag BaOmer commemorates the death of Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashi), one of the great rabbis of old. Many religious people celebrate by visiting Mount Meron, to Bar Yochai’s tomb in the North of Israel. Other sources say it commemorates the failed Bar Kochba revolt against Rome. This is the war of the Masada story, and the one that led the Romans to ban Jews from Jerusalem.
Noah told us a nice story he learned in school about Bar Kochba and a green donkey. He decided, as an adult that he should learn Torah, but was afraid that people would laugh at a grown man in a school full of children. His wife, who was very wise, told him to plaster grass all over a donkey. They took the donkey to the market, and everyone laughed at it. The next day they did it again, and only half the people laughed. On the third day, they took the donkey to the market, and nobody laughed, so that’s how bar Kochba learned to get over his fear of mockery and go learn. Noah told the story very well.
One thing that everyone agrees on is that Lag BaOmer is a day for bonfires. Noah’s class organized a bonfire for 5pm on Saturday. Everyone had to sign up to bring something. I didn’t notice the signup sheet until late, so all that was left was cucumbers, but it’s okay, because I know a place that sells them.
The other tradition, somewhat strangely, is archery. This is either because (a) the Rashi was so holy that no rainbows appeared in his lifetime, rainbows, of course being a sign that the world’s people are being sinful and need punishing or (b) because the Jewish rebels used bows and arrows.
At the appointed hour, we brought our cucumbers to Noah’s bonfire on a scrubby vacant lot within walking distance of our apartment. It’s hard to get used to how much trust and independence five and six-year-olds are given here. People are much more laid back about letting children near a fire than in the US. It took some self restraint to keep myself from taking on the role myself. The parents cooked potatoes in the fire, covered in foil and threaded onto a long piece of clothes-hanger wire. Perhaps the wire was clean–the potatoes were tasty. There was corn and hotdogs, marshmallows for roasting, cake, and most of Noah’s class and their friendly parents.