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Lag BaOmer Brings With It Festivities in Fantastic Form

Lag BaOmer Brings With It Festivities in Fantastic Form

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Bands are a big part of Lag BaOmer parades worldwide, as at last year's parade in Los Angeles.
Bands are a big part of Lag BaOmer parades worldwide, as at last year's parade in Los Angeles.

Maria Theresa of Austria reigned over much of Central Europe with an iron fist for four decades in the 18th century and was known as a bitter anti-Semite who only spoke to Jews through a curtain—and only when she needed money. Yet on Sunday, the courtyard of one of her many Viennese palaces will fill with the trill of Hebrew songs, the aroma of kosher hot dogs and the sight of families getting together to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer.

The palace—a stunning example of Baroque architecture—has been home to the Lauder Business School since 2003 (headed by Rabbi Jacob Biderman, senior Chabad rabbi in Austria) and the Ohel Avraham Synagogue since 2005.

“It’s an odd twist of Divine irony that here in Austria in the palace of a ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, you now have Jewish children celebrating Lag BaOmer, which marks the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a second-century Jewish scholar and mystic who spent many years in a cave hiding from Roman authorities,” says Chabad Rabbi Shaya Boas, who leads the congregation.

Beginning this year on Saturday evening, May 17, and continuing through Sunday, May 18, Lag BaOmer—in keeping with Bar Yochai’s instructions to celebrate the day as heralding the dissemination of the Torah’s esoteric teachings—is characterized by bonfires, picnics, outdoor celebrations and, in a modern practice instituted by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—Jewish unity parades.

The “mother of all parades” is the one that marches down Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, N.Y., which was often attended by the Rebbe, who would address the children, and smile and wave as they passed by.

In addition to the thousands of students who come as part of area day schools and communal organizations, there will be approximately 500 kids attending who participate in the Released Time program, which provides free Jewish education and religious instruction to Jewish children in public schools throughout the five boroughs.

Working on the building of a float for the big parade in Los Angeles
Working on the building of a float for the big parade in Los Angeles

“This is a time when the children feel good to see that they are part of something awesome—thousands of Jewish kids like them marching in unison,” says Rabbi Shneur Zalman Minkowitz, program director of Released Time. “Here, they’re among friends, expressing their Jewish pride, and it’s a blast!”

Events in Israel

In Israel, tens of thousands will be on hand in Meron, just outside the northern city of Safed, for a night and day celebration near the resting place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Recent estimates have put the number at between 75,000 and 250,000 people.

Around the rest of the country, in cities and towns large and small, Chabad centers are hosting parades and gatherings under the slogan: “Together, all children of Israel.”

Perhaps the biggest of all the Chabad-sponsored gatherings is in Kfar Saba in the middle of the country, where approximately 10,000 children gather in a large plaza in the city center for a parade, celebrity appearances and other festivities, followed by a mini amusement park.

Rabbi Mendy Kainevsky of Beit Chabad Kfar Saba says that, like the gatherings all over the world, there is more to the event than just a good time. The kids give charity, recite the 12 Torah passages that the Rebbe encouraged Jewish children to know and say, and the crowd that stretches as far as the eye can see sings psalms together in one voice.

An hour’s drive to the north, just past the seaside city of Haifa, Rabbi Levi Oirechman says he has reserved the 500-seat community center in the Kiryat Haim neighborhood, and is now working hard to make sure that every seat is full.

Lag BaOmer in Kfar Saba, Israel—in the middle of the country outside Tel Aviv—draws thousands of children and their families for a parade, celebrity appearances and amusement-park rides.
Lag BaOmer in Kfar Saba, Israel—in the middle of the country outside Tel Aviv—draws thousands of children and their families for a parade, celebrity appearances and amusement-park rides.

Since Lag BaOmer will be a regular school day this year (Israeli children do not have off on Sundays) and the children will have their Lag BaOmer vacation day on Monday instead, Oirechman says the parades have to be carefully timed to begin after school lets out, and then end before many children and their families start to disperse to surrounding vacant lots, where they will ignite bonfires.

… and in the States

In the United States and across the world, hundreds of Chabad centers will host community barbecues and other outdoor activities in honor of the day.

In Los Angeles, community activist Rabbi Mendel Duchman and a team of Chabad rabbis are currently in the midst of putting the finishing touches on a parade that will include the L.A. Clippers’ Drum Line, in addition to clowns, themed floats, trampolines and, of course, lots of Jewish children—some 7,000 of them.

Boys practice flag maneuvers, which they will demonstrate in the Los Angeles parade, held near the Bais Chaya Mushka School.
Boys practice flag maneuvers, which they will demonstrate in the Los Angeles parade, held near the Bais Chaya Mushka School.

Duchman says many elements of the parade—which is held in the shadow of Bais Chaya Mushka School, whose architecture reflects that of Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn—are evocative of the parades that the Rebbe would attend. Quite appropriately, Duchman’s father-in-law, the late Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht, would emcee the Brooklyn parades with the Rebbe for decades and had the distinction of translating the Rebbe’s talk into English in his unforgettable style.

The parade is a collaboration of Chabad West Coast, Kol Yaakov Yehuda Junior Congregation, the Unzer Kinder Foundation and Cheder Menachem.

Fitting for a day that celebrates unity, many organizations often partner with each other to form larger community-wide events.

In South Florida, more than 75 community centers, day schools, Chabad Houses and synagogues have gotten together to sponsor a Jewish Unity Event and Fair in the Miami Marlins ballpark. The mega-event will feature a full day of fun with a parade, concert and carnival with some 50 different rides.

In addition to ample parking and enough room to accommodate the tens of thousands expected, some extra perks include an insider’s tour of newly built baseball stadium and a chance to run the bases.

Symbols of Jewish life come to life for L.A. spectators.
Symbols of Jewish life come to life for L.A. spectators.

Josh Levy of nearby Coral Springs, Fla., says he and his wife, Rachel, plan to bring their four children—aged 6 to 6 months—to the parade for the first time. “I cannot wait for my kids to see so many Jews in on place,” says Levy, a buyer at an online retail firm.

“I look forward to them seeing floats that they will love, and I hope,” he adds cheerfully, “to keep them away from too much junk food.”



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