Scenes of families crowding carnival lawns, jumping merrymakers dancing around bonfires, and large outdoor Jewish concerts are the usual fare for the joyous and deeply spiritual holiday of Lag BaOmer that kicks off the summer season for the Jewish community. Sandwiched in between Passover and Shavuot, this lesser-known holiday, celebrated this year on the evening of Monday, May 11, and Tuesday, May 12, is now a much-anticipated day for adults and children worldwide.

Months into the global COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown and the new normal of social distancing, rabbis and community leaders are getting increasingly creative as to how they can replicate such joyous scenes this year in the safest and most responsible ways. Challenging it is, but absolutely doable, they have discovered—with a little out-of-the-box thinking and a lot of determination.

As the anniversary of the passing of the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the founder of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), Lag BaOmer has long been associated with fire and light. In his epic work the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s day of passing is movingly recorded, speaking of an intense fire that descended from on High. To evoke this fire and light, Jews have lit bonfires for centuries, and more recently, cracking out their Webers for a good old grilling experience.

Rabbi Duni and Chaya Blotner were recently added to the Chabad team of emissaries at Chabad of Omaha, Nebraska, under the leadership of Rabbi Mendel and Shani Katzman, and were looking forward to their first Lag BaOmer in town. Alas, the usual merrymaking was not meant to be.

But Blotner keenly observed what happened over Passover. Like many other Chabad Houses and community centers around the country, Chabad of Omaha organized a large-scale “Seder to Go” campaign. With the help and sponsorship of the local Jewish Federation, they were able to personally deliver more than 300 kits to almost every Jew in Omaha.

With that in mind, Blotner is setting the wheels in motion for a similar Lag BaOmer experience. “We spoke with medical professionals in our community, and while houses of worship are already being opened in Nebraska, we decided to take extra caution,” explained Blotner. Volunteers from the local University of Nebraska Medical Center are scheduled to come by and pack up barbecue fare that people can pick up from the Chabad Center on Lag BaOmer amid music and festivities. “We set up an online order form to streamline everything,” he said, “and we’re hoping to really bring the Lag BaOmer spirit to everyone who comes.”

It's customary for many 3-year-old boys to get their first haircut on Lag BaOmer surrounded by family and friends. This year, many of the festivities will be broadcast on social media, enabling people from around the world to attend.
It's customary for many 3-year-old boys to get their first haircut on Lag BaOmer surrounded by family and friends. This year, many of the festivities will be broadcast on social media, enabling people from around the world to attend.

The Rok Family Shul in Miami’s financial district under the leadership of Rabbi Chaim Lipsker, is a bustling hub of activity year-round. Shuttered for weeks now, Lipsker was hearing from many community members just how much they missed their shul and the people inside it.

With Lag BaOmer on the horizon, Lipsker has devised a plan to both maintain social distancing and bring people back at least within eyesight of their beloved spiritual home: It’s the drive-by barbecue yet again. With grill, music and a whole lot of cheer from behind their masks, gloves and other protective gear, Lipsker and his family are planning to hand off the smoking repast to all who stop by.

“While we have been spiritually connected all this time, people haven’t seen their shul in a long while, and everyone is very excited to get this opportunity for community joy,” said the rabbi.

Lag BaOmer in Deltona, Fla.
Lag BaOmer in Deltona, Fla.

Zooming Around the Fire

Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of Chabad of Uptown in Houston, Texas, has gotten to know his front porch very well these days. From his second-story perch, he spends his time learning, reading, and of course, connecting to the many people who pass by.

As the spiritual leader of a largely young community, Lazaroff empathizes with the impact a protracted quarantine can have on young, single people alone at home. He live streams his prayers daily on Zoom for anyone to join, and has been keen on keeping people in the loop. For Lag BaOmer, he plans on doing much of the same.

“We are providing people with a full list of ingredients and resources they will need for an at-home bonfire with s’mores, items that can be purchased at any local mart,” he explained. When the sun dips below the horizon on Lag BaOmer eve, the virtual campfire will begin. Over Zoom, the plan is to unite and cook s’mores, sing songs, and share the messages and joy of Lag BaOmer together.

And, of course, anyone passing by Lazaroff’s home will be in on the party as well. With his booming voice, he’ll make sure of that.

Lag BaOmer in Santa Monica, Calif.
Lag BaOmer in Santa Monica, Calif.

Parading Around Town

The holiday has gained much popularity in recent years, largely due to the efforts of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—to promote grand parades of Jewish pride.

Some Chabad centers are harking back to the Lag BaOmer parade days of old, simply adapting it to a social-distancing, super-sterile version for 2020. How? A car parade, of course.

Central Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois recently sent out a mass email to thousands of Jews across the city of Chicago, excitedly announcing that they are making “The 5780 Grand Lag BaOmer Parade the MOST exciting ever! The parade features: YOU!!” Encouraging people to use their creativity to decorate their cars, the email promises prizes, joy and much fun.

Other communities have taken to the car parade idea in an effort to pay thanks to first responders and medical personnel who have so courageously been at the forefront of this pandemic. Reaching out to the members of his community in Chabad of Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum announced that “this year we would like to take Jewish Unity and Pride to the streets in support of our first responders, medical personnel, health and essential workers and our beloved teachers! All from the safety of your car!

Lag BaOmer in Miami.
Lag BaOmer in Miami.

“You will get to decorate your car with personalized signs, banners and balloons, and we will join together with music and joy as we drive through the streets and pass hospitals as we give thanks to our true heroes,” it reads.

Rabbi Moshe Naparstek in Dallas is also warming up to the idea of a car parade, but with another creative twist. Thinking of how he can get the message out with more than just a conventional, hand-drawn sign, he hit upon the idea of renting an LED truck to drive around town with a video message for all to see.

Finding such a vehicle proved to be challenging, but after a bit of digging, Naparstek managed to find someone with a truck to rent. And, of course, it just turns out that he’s Jewish, too, so he’ll be joining the effort not just as a vendor, but as a promoter. Work is already well underway on video production, and word has it that it will say something about the day and a word of thanks to the medical heroes in our communities.

Lag BaOmer in Milwaukee, Wis.
Lag BaOmer in Milwaukee, Wis.

Rochester, N.Y., is really taking things to the next level. The JCC of Rochester has a large parking lot that has been closed for months now—and that got Rabbi Moshe Vogel thinking. Together with his parents, Rabbi Nechemia and Masha Vogel of Chabad of Rochester, Moshe and his wife Chayi approached Josh Weinstein, president of the Jewish Community Center, and asked him if he would like to collaborate on a project for Lag BaOmer.

The idea was as creative as it was simple: Let’s make a concert in the parking lot, and everyone can watch from the safety of their own cars.

Weinstein loved the idea, and planning is already in motion for a parking-lot, stay-in-your-car concert for the whole family.

Town supervisor Bill Moehle is working closely with the Jewish community, providing safety guidelines and other protocol from the local health department and the CDC.

“We just came up with this idea last week, and the initial communication only went out to the community of Rochester in the last couple days. In that short amount of time, the response we’ve been getting has been very exciting—people are really looking forward to it,” Moshe Vogel told Chabad.org.

Lag BaOmer in Buffalo, N.Y.
Lag BaOmer in Buffalo, N.Y.

Rabbi Avi Klimnick of the local Congregation Beth Shalom doubles as a professional singer, and he is scheduled to entertain the crowd, hoping that his voice will penetrate those car-door windows. In addition to the musical performance is an acrobat show.

As for the food? Vogel chuckled: “That’s going to be BYOF.”

For Lag BaOmer events near you, visit the Chabad locator page here.

An online Lag BaOmer parade and party from CKids can be viewed here.

An online guide to celebrating Lag BaOmer at home this year can be found here.

Lag BaOmer in Charlotte, N.C.
Lag BaOmer in Charlotte, N.C.
Lag BaOmer in Hartford, Conn.
Lag BaOmer in Hartford, Conn.