From the hills of Meron to the streets of cities and villages throughout Israel, more participants than ever before enjoyed Lag BaOmer festivities in Israel this year, thanks to a new nationwide program launched by the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel.
The celebrations in Israel were part of tens of thousands of gatherings large and small across the globe marking the passing of the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who requested that the anniversary of his passing should be marked with joyous events. As a result, the day was filled with parades, picnics, bonfires, learning of Rabbi Shimon’s teachings, and especially with Jewish children the world over gathering for a day of fun and learning.
With the assistance of businessman Ronen Perez, promotional material in Israel was designed for Chabad Houses that participated in the first national Lag BaOmer Parade program. Advertisements were distributed via the Internet from websites, Facebook pages and email newsletters, notifying families in their area of the upcoming parades with the aim of being entertaining, inviting, appealing and uniform.
Children were provided with percussion instruments to participate in what the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, referred to as a salute to Jewish unity and pride. They paraded through their neighborhoods, singing and playing their instruments.
Rabbi Chaim Gottlieb, director of Chabad Talpiot Mizrach in Jerusalem, coordinated one such Lag BaOmer parade for East Talpiot and Arnona areas. Some 500 children participated at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, April 28, including many from pre-schools in the area. “Parents enjoyed the parade so much that they asked to have more activities in their area,” said Gottlieb.
Thousands of marchers and onlookers turned out in central Jerusalem for a parade and festivities led by Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, director of Chabad of Rechavia. For the first time the community marched on King George Street, one of the city’s busiest and most storied avenues.
Half a million celebrants in Meron
This year, some 500,000 people visited the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. Rabbi Yossi Halperin, director of Chabad there, provided two days of related activities. Events began on Shabbat, including the distribution of thousands of pamphlets on the teachings of Rabbi Shimon.
For the first time there was a coordinated nationwide effort to publicize Lag BaOmer parades
On Lag BaOmer itself, thousands of visitors to Meron had the opportunity to put on tefillin with Chabad volunteers. Hundreds of visitors purchased letters for a new Torah scroll to be used at the gravesite. At night, clips of the Rebbe were shown on a large screen overlooking the square, and a tent for learning was busy during the day and stayed open throughout the night.
The children of Meron enjoyed a special lighting along with their parents, and young and old took part in song.
More than 1,000 children came to the grave of Rabbi Shimon for the traditional cutting of the hair at age 3. According to Jewish tradition, Jewish boys do not have their hair cut until their third birthday, and there is also the tradition not to cut one’s hair between Passover and Shavuos, except for on Lag BaOmer.
The Lag BaOmer parade began at the synagogue in Meron and marched towards the gravesite. The children marched, singing and playing drums accompanied by “mitzvah puppets.” Warm words were shared by a number of rabbis, and each child received a book with a positive lesson.
Hospitality and Parades in Safed
Like every year, many came to visit the mystical city of Safed, high on the hills near the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon in Meron. This year, with Lag BaOmer beginning after the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath, many more came to spend Shabbat in Safed. A special Chassidic gathering was held for these guests at the Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue on Shabbat.
In the old city of Safed, synagogue director Rabbi Gavriel Marzel organized two parades—one for girls and one for boys. Safed’s old city always boasts an interesting combination of Americans, Israelis and a variety of Chassidic residents, who unite with visitors from Israel and abroad who travel to Meron and Safed on Lag BaOmer.
The girls’ parade was coordinated by Marzel’s daughter, Chaya Mushka, and consisted of 250 girls who enjoyed a play relevant to Lag BaOmer. The boys’ parade consisted of about 300 boys who afterwards enjoyed trampolining in the park nearby.
“The activities inspired such togetherness that everyone felt like one family,” said Chaya Mushka Marzel.