Friday, May 11, 2012

5/10/12: Lag Ba'Omer And A Little Jewish History

The 2nd night of Passover begins a period of time known as "the counting of the Omer" where every night, from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavu'ot, we recite a blessing and state the count of the omer in both weeks and days. For example,  on the 16th day between Pesach and Shavu'ot, we would say "Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer."The counting is intended to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavu'ot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. It reminds us that the redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah.

However, this period of time is also a period of mourning in memory of a horrible plague that struck during the time of Rabbi Akiva, who, in the Talmud, is referred to as the "head of all sages". During this period of days weddings, celebrations, and parties are not held, and haircuts are not allowed to be given. There is, however, a break in the mourning period that occurs on the 33rd day of the Omer, a day known as Lag Ba'Omer. On this particular date the mourning practices are lifted, haircuts are given (en mass if you go to religious towns like Tsfat), and it is one of the most popular days for Ashkenazi couples to get married if they are looking to have an early spring wedding! 

For whatever reason this holiday is marked by country wide bonfires lit on almost every corner of most cities in Israel. As I was on the bus coming back from university I could see fires being lit all over the city. Families were out with their children, huge stock piles formed all over the city filled with wood, old bed frames, and really anything else even remotely flammable. To be honest, if I were a little kid I would have been giddy at the idea of being able to help my parents light a big pile of junk on fire! What fun :-) The only downfall was that the entire city smelled like a huge ash tray. 

Bonfires at Kikar Ha'Medinah 
Until I lived in Israel I never noticed how much culture and tradition I missed out on growing up in a secular, Christian country. I never knew of celebrations shared throughout a whole country like the ones seen on Lag Ba'Omer, never felt mourning like I did on Yom Hazikaron and Yom Hashoa, and never felt passion and celebration like I did on Yom Ha'Atzmaut (independence day). I think it is so important for every Jewish person to come to Israel at least for a period of time if for nothing more than to experience the amazing traditions observed in this country. For a Jewish traditionalist like me there is nothing better than the feeling that I am living in a place as deeply rooted in, and connected to, Judaism as I feel that I am. I may not be religious, I may turn lights on during Shabbat, I may not keep the best Kosher (I just really, really like bacon and shrimp), but there is nothing more important to me than my faith, religion, and traditions, and living in Israel just enhances that every single moment of every day. 

Feeling the need for some spiritual uplifting I have decided to take a solo trip into Jerusalem on Monday. Luckily my only class was cancelled which will give me time to go back into the holy city for the day, spend time in the old city, visit the Arab shuk and the streets of East Jerusalem, and get away to clear my head. It will be nice to run away for a little while, feed the soul by spending time in one of the most overwhelmingly special places in the world, and then return hopefully refreshed and ready to begin another week :-). 

Stay tuned <3,
Jordana Simone 

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