Walk around any town in Israel in the days leading up to Lag B’Omer, and you’ll know the holiday is approaching by the bands of children collecting wood: As the hours count down, bonfires begin dotting the landscape in celebration of the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Outside of Israel, the day’s observance has taken on heightened importance since the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, encouraged communities everywhere to hold parades as a demonstration of Jewish pride. Still, strict local ordinances have made holding bonfires only possible in a portion of locations.

This year, however, will see at least one new bonfire added to the plethora of holiday activities taking place across the United States Monday night and Tuesday, a towering pillar of flame in the American West coordinated by Chabad-Lubavitch of Wyoming.

According to Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, who established the center last year with his wife Raizy, Jews from across the state will gather at the private ranch of Gal and Cheryl Bar-Or outside Jackson Hole. In keeping with customs associated with the holiday, children will practice their archery skills at a specially-constructed range on site, and participants will gather around a large bonfire complete with music and singing.

Known as the Rashbi, bar Yochai is the mystic sage credited with authoring the foundational Kabbalistic text of the Zohar. Before his passing, he instructed his students to celebrate the day as heralding the dissemination of the Torah’s esoteric teachings.

“The main thing about Lag B’Omer,” relates Mendelsohn, “is that we are celebrating the Rashbi and are able to do so outdoors. Nature is very beautiful and spiritual, and gives people a chance to appreciate G‑dliness, to appreciate Creation.”

For Gal Bar-Or, an Israeli-born businessman whose last name fittingly translates to “son of light,” the huge bonfire will provide a reminder of the festivals of his childhood.

“Growing up in Israel, I remembered it being such a big holiday,” he explains. “Even now, I remember watching the bonfires for hours, but it wasn’t celebrated the same way here in America.”

A few months ago, Bar-Or approached the Mendelsohns, asking them what they planned for this year’s holiday.

“I told him all we need is a place and that we would love to plan a big event,” says the rabbi. “And he eagerly offered his ranch. He wants to give his kids and the rest of the community this experience.”

As it did last year, Tuesday’s Lag B’Omer festival at the Shul will feature arts and crafts for the children.
As it did last year, Tuesday’s Lag B’Omer festival at the Shul will feature arts and crafts for the children.

Family Fun

Communal unity will also be highlighted at Lag B’Omer gatherings elsewhere in the country. At the Shul, a Chabad House and synagogue in West Bloomfield, Mich., program director Yaakovah Stein has planned live music, children’s activities, a bonfire and barbeque to entertain Jewish families from the Detroit suburb.

For Chabad.org’s full directory of events taking place in your area, click here.

“We’ve really put a lot of thought and planning into creating this Family Fun Day,” says Stein. “There’s a wide variety of activities: We even have an arts-and-crafts area where among other things, kids can paint a flower pot and plant seeds in it.”

The Shul’s directors anticipate between 200 and 250 people for the celebration, which will include a performance by stuntman Lee Bushman.

In Richmond, Va., meanwhile, families are expected to turn out en masse for the community’s second-annual Golf B’Omer celebration at a local golf course. Last year, more than 200 people joined Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Yossel and Nechomi Kranz for the event, which will again feature a large barbeque and rounds of miniature golf.

“People still talk about it,” remarks Nechomi Kranz.

The full schedule of activities has a Moonbounce, access to the park’s driving range and batting cages, football, bonfire and marshmallow roasting.

Back in Wyoming, Bar-Or says that there’s one Israeli activity his children, ages 5 and 7, aren’t doing: scrounging for wood. Living amidst forest land at the foot of the Grand Teton mountains, the family, he says, has “enough wood to last many, many Lag B’Omers.”