The above four Holidays or at least commemoration days are observed in the month of Iyar. They are observed as follows:
Yom HaShoah is observed on Sunday April 23, 2017 which is 27th of Nissan. It is the 12th day of the Omer. It is the only one of the 4 which is observed in Nissan instead of Iyar.
Israeli Memorial Day is observed on April 29 2017 which is the 3rd of Iyar (falls on Shabbat so moves to Monday April 1 2017).
Israeli Independence Day is observed on the 4th of Iyar which is Sunday April 30 2017 so moved to Monday May 2 2017.
Pesach Sheini is observed on the 14th of Iyar which is 30 days after the Holiday of Pesach in Nissan. It is observed on the 29th Day of the Omer. This year it starts at sundown on Tuesday May 9 2017 and day of Wednesday May 10 2017. This is the Sefirah of Chesed SheBe Hod.
Lag B'Omer is the 33rd Day of the Omer which is the Sefirah of Hod SheBe Hod. It is celebrated on the 18th day of Iyar. This year that is on Sunday May 14 2017.
Throughout Jewish History Jewish people have suffered atrocity after atrocity. Each time that happens the community picks itself up and goes about its business recovering from the atrocity. Each time someone writes a Piyut - a mourner's dirge in Hebrew or Yiddish or Arabic or Ladino. These Piyut generally speak about HaShem and His caring for His people. After the impact of the Shoah there was no universal acceptance of this event as the will of HaShem. It was so horrific that people were struck with silence. There were very few Piyut written and none were generally accepted by the whole Jewish World.
In 1951 The Israeli Knesset created the Shoah Memorial Day. In 1953 the Knesset approved this date permanently. The full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is "Yom HaShoah Ve-Hagevurah"--literally the "Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the "Gevurah". It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nissan--a week after the seventh day of Passover and a week before Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers). Recently it has begun to be celebrated in America on the Monday similar to the American Holidays.
The full name became formal in a law that was enacted by the Knesset on August 19, 1953. Although the date was established by the Israeli government, it has become a day commemorated by Jewish communities and individuals worldwide.
In the early 1950s, education about the Holocaust emphasized the suffering inflicted on millions of European Jews by the Nazis. Surveys conducted in the late 1950s indicated that young Israelis did not sympathize with the victims of the Holocaust, since they believed that European Jews were "led like sheep to the slaughter." The Israeli educational curriculum began to shift the emphasis to documenting how Jews resisted their Nazi tormentors through "passive resistance"--retaining their human dignity in the most unbearable conditions--and by "active resistance," fighting the Nazis in the ghettos and joining underground partisans who battled the Third Reich in its occupied countries.
Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom HaShoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout the State of Israel for two minutes of silent devotion. The siren blows at sundown and once again at 11:00 A.M. on this date. All radio and television programs during this day are connected in one way or another with the Jewish destiny in World War II, including personal interviews with survivors (people still alive). Even the musical programs are adapted to the atmosphere of Yom HaShoah. There is no public entertainment on Yom HaShoah, as theaters, cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are closed throughout Israel.
Some Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis have never endorsed this memorial day, nor have they formally rejected it. There is no change in the daily religious services in Orthodox synagogues on Yom HaShoah. The Orthodox Rabbinate of Israel attempted to promote the Tenth of Tevet--a traditional fast day commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in ancient times--as the "General Kaddish Day" in which Jews should recite the memorial prayer and light candles in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. Several ultra-Orthodox rabbis have recommended adding piyyutim (religious poems) that were written by contemporary rabbis to the liturgy of the Ninth of Av, and many communities follow this custom.
Jews in North America observe Yom HaShoah within the synagogue as well as in the broader Jewish community. Commemorations range from synagogue services to communal vigils and educational programs. A few congregations find it more practical to hold commemorative ceremonies on the closest Sunday to Yom HaShoah. Many Yom HaShoah programs feature a talk by a Holocaust survivor (a person still alive), recitation of appropriate songs and readings, or viewing of a Holocaust-themed film. Some communities choose to emphasize the depth of loss that Jews experienced in the Holocaust by reading the names of Holocaust victims one after another--dramatizing the unfathomable notion of six million deaths. Many Jewish schools also hold Holocaust-related educational programs on or near Yom HaShoah.
Rituals associated with Yom HaShoah are still being created and vary widely among synagogues. Attempts have also been made to observe this memorial day at home. One suggestion is that every Jewish home should light a yahrzeit (memorial) candle on this day.
There have been numerous attempts to compose special liturgy (text and music) for Yom HaShoah. In 1988 the Reform movement published Six Days of Destruction. This book, co-authored by Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Albert Friedlander, was meant to be viewed as a "sixth scroll," a modern addition to the five scrolls that are read on specific holidays. Six narratives from Holocaust survivors are juxtaposed to the six days of creation found in Genesis.
One of the most recent achievements is Megillat HaShoah (The Holocaust Scroll) created by the Conservative movement as a joint project of rabbis and lay leaders in Canada, the U.S., and Israel. This Holocaust scroll contains personal recollections of Holocaust survivors (those still living) and is written in biblical style. It was composed under the direction of Professor Avigdor Shinan of Hebrew University.
While Yom HaShoah rituals are still in flux there is no question that this day holds great meaning for Jews worldwide. The overwhelming theme that runs through all observances is the importance of remembering--recalling the victims of this catastrophe, and insuring that such a tragedy never happen again.
The Shoah (Holocaust) posed an enormous challenge to Judaism and raised many questions: Can one be a believing Jew after the Holocaust? Where was God? How can one have faith in humanity? Facing this recent event in history, does it really matter if one practices Judaism? Jewish theologians and laity have struggled with these questions for decades. The very fact that Jews still identify Jewishly, practice their religion--and have embraced the observance of Yom HaShoah answers some of the questions raised by the Holocaust.
The Kabbalists have posed a few explanations for the horror of the Shoah. They are not generally discussed and expressed freely as the Kabbalists follow the teaching that all of these souls who died became Tzadikim through this process ending in their death. This cleansing called the Shoah resulted in the Creation of the State of Israel.
Rabbi Daniel Greyber published his opinion in the Jewish Week Newspaper on April 27 2011. Here it is reproduced without permission. It is very informative about the difference between the Yom HaShoah and the memorial now associated with the Tenth of Tevet by the Orthodox community. It also asks some difficult questions which i will leave to you to resolve for yourself.
The Orthodox Chief Rabbinate decided in 1949 that the Shoah (the Hebrew, literally meaning "catastrophe," that is now used for the Holocaust) should be commemorated on the 10th of Tevet, a fast day already established in the Jewish calendar.
In 1951, the Knesset ignored the Chief Rabbinate's decision to incorporate commemoration of the Shoah into the existing calendar of traditional Jewish days of mourning. The first Knesset proposal was to hold Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on the 14th of Nissan, the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (April 19, 1943) but that was rejected because the 14th of Nissan is the day immediately before Passover. You might imagine that the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto drew inspiration from the Passover story in selecting the night before Pesach as the date for their rebellion. In reality, they selected April 19th because the Germans entered the ghetto that day and were determined to deport the remaining Jews of Warsaw as a gift to Hitler whose birthday was April 20th.
The Knesset finally established Yom HaShoah on the 27th of Nisan, eight days prior to Yom HaAtzma'ut, a day that runs dafka - in the face - of the traditional Jewish calendar's association of joy in the month of Nissan, and the Chief Rabbinate's decision for the 10th of Tevet two years prior. Choosing to commemorate Yom HaShoah during the month of Nissan - a month that is supposed to be filled with the joy of Passover - reflected a desire to choose a different narrative than the one that forms the basis of two thousand years of Jewish history.
The above raises a clear dilemma for the Kabbalists and others who wish to create unity within the Jewish World. Zionism and Religiosity are diametrically opposed; or are they?
It is curious to note that the official name of Yom HaShoah is Yom HaZikaron LaShoah v'HaGevurah, Remembrance Day of the Holocaust and Heroism (HaGevurah).
The second less known phrase of the day's name derives from the Knesset's decision to make the day about, "a day of commemoration of the Jews who perished and for those who showed resistance and heroism" (official Knesset website - emphasis added).
What is implied in the second part of the name is an effort to re-interpret the meaning of the Shoah - an event that represents the ultimate devastation when Jews were powerless to defend themselves - into a story of both weakness and power. That the Warsaw ghetto uprising was an act of bravery and light amidst darkness and evil is indisputable, and important. But, seen in a sea of blood and slaughter, and understood in the context of six million men, women, and children who were the victims of state-sponsored, systematized murder, the uprising was significant much more for its symbolic rather than practical value.
The modern state of Israel chooses to remember this moment of Jewish heroism in the Shoah because the lesson Israel learns from the Shoah is that it is Jewish strength and heroism, not God that will save the Jews.
A refutation of the 4000 years of Jewish History. Thank God HaShem does not take offense at the foibles of men. Only when men profane other men.
In Israel, one hears the sirens of Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron (Israel's memorial day for fallen soldiers) and sees on television stories of death and tears and sadness. The calendar creates a beginning, the utter blackness and death of the Shoah, a middle, the courage and sacrifice of those who died fighting, and an end, Yom HaAtzma'ut, the day of Jewish independence and freedom.
This is all i will say about these three days. They are divisive for the community of world wide Jewry. The unity will come and they will be put into three days in a row soon with the coming of Mashiach, in my opinion.
But in the competing, traditional Jewish narrative, the story continues. Yom HaAtzma'ut, like Yom Hashoah, runs against the grain of the traditional Jewish calendar. Yom HaAtzma'ut is a day of celebration that occurs in the midst of a period of mourning, the first 33 days of the Omer during which traditional Jews remember 20,000 students of Torah who perished. On Lag B'Omer, the dying came to an end. In another few weeks Shavuot arrives and traditional Jews celebrate standing before God at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. The traditional Jewish narrative tells us that the freedom of Passover is not only freedom from slavery, but freedom with a purpose: to serve God.
Which narrative is "true?" Do Jews celebrate the God of history who saves from Egypt and gives the Torah at Sinai?
Or, after the Shoah, does the story end at Yom HaAtzma'ut, having given up on a saving God and, instead, saved ourselves? The question at the heart of these competing calendars is not academic; it is critical to the Jewish future.
As the twenty-first century begins, do Jews find themselves with a state of their own, a safe haven for the first time in two thousand years, but existentially alone in the wilderness? No Jew with a modicum of knowledge of the suffering and persecution that befell Jews for thousands of years would turn away from our newfound ability to defend ourselves. We have independence, for which we should be grateful, but at what cost, and for what purpose?
On Yom HaAtzma'ut, I sing Hallel prayers, another liturgical statement: we officially praise God for giving us a new beginning. But as I sing to Him, I am haunted by His absence 70 years ago when we needed Him the most. Does Yom HaAtzma'ut lead to Sinai? Can Israel forgive God and find Him in history again?
I leave these questions to each individual. They are valid questions. I know Rabbi Daniel Greyber in a distant way. He asks these questions. How will each of you answer him?
Pesach Sheni: by Rav Gedalia Schorr: - The Tzibur (Leader) Demands Pesach Sheini!
The people who were Tamei and were not able to bring a Korban Pesach came to Moshe to complain that they also wanted to have a chance to do the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. Through this brave act they were Zocheh (able to rise) to have the Mitzvah of Pesach Sheni in the Torah through them. What is so special about Pesach Sheini that instead of HaShem telling Moshe the Halachos HaShem waited for the people to demand it?
Rav Gedalia Schorr in Ohr Gedalyahu explains that Pesach is a great gift from HaShem. Normally for us to get something from HaShem we must make the first move towards HaShem and then he reciprocates by opening the floodgates. “Pischu Li… KiChudoi Shel Machat VaAni Eftach Lachem Pesach Shel Ulam”. (This is a frequently quoted verse from Tanach that is being paraphrased here). You open up a miniscule opening for HaShem and HaShem will open a gigantic opening for you. The Seforim tell us that on Pesach night HaShem skipped over the “Pesach” of Bnei Yisrael. Literally this means He skipped over the door of their homes during Makas Bechoros (The Killing of the First Born - The 10th Plague). But it is explained B’Derech Drush (Another Author/Sefer) that HaShem skips over our “Pesach”. This means the needle sized opening that we are supposed to make for him. We didn’t make the slightest move towards HaShem in Mitzrayim yet HaShem ignored that and came to our rescue anyway.
The counting of the Omer called Sefirah HaOmer is a time where after having received HaShem’s great chesed on Pesach we go back slowly and earn it day by day. This says the Ohr Gedalyahu is the Yom Tov of Pesach Sheini. It is the Pesach that we demanded. After working on ourselves over Sefirah we make our move to warrant the great gift of Pesach. That is why it came about through the demands of Bnei Yisrael. When we demanded Pesach Sheini HaShem opened up the Heavens and graced us with this wonderful opportunity. The whole point of this second Pesach was that the inspiration comes from us below. (This is how Female Waters works - Just as the Female desires the Male and entices him to arousal; our actions entice HaShem to act as our desires dictate).
The Ohr Gedaliyahu follows through with this thought and says that the Mazal of the month of Sivan is “Teomim”, twins. The reason is that on Pesach, HaShem made the first move and on Pesach Sheini and during Sefirah HaOmer we made our move. On Shavuot these two efforts meet and are united on Har Sinai where HaShem calls us Yonosi Tamasi (Complete). HaShem kviyochol becomes "Tam" or whole when we join him. We are not simply recipients of undeserving goodness from HaShem. We are inseparable twins with HaShem, (equal to HaShem) but only when we make our gesture towards Him.
Minhagei Pesach Sheini: Matza, Maror… What and When?
There is a minhag to eat matzah on Pesach Sheini, the 14th of Iyar. Rav Yaakov Emden writes in his Siddur that it was revealed to him from Shamayim that the reason we have Pesach Sheini is because the Matzah they baked on the way out of Mitzrayim lasted until the 15th of Iyar when the “Mun” (Manna) started to fall. This date represented the last physical remnants of the Nes of Yetzias Mitzrayim (miracle of the Exodus - Redemption from Egypt). The more obvious reason we eat Matzah is because those who were Tamei on the first Pesach brought the Korban Pesach. Matzah, like by Afikoman at the Seder, is our way of remembering the Korban Pesach.
Others eat Matza on the night of the 15th of Iyar as well because just like by Pesach we bring the Korban Pesach on the 14th but only ate it at night on the 15th, so too on Pesach Sheini. The Zichron Yehuda says that the Maharam Ash (a talmid of the Chasam Sofer) would eat Matzah, Maror, and a boiled egg on the night of the 15th of Iyar.
The Rashash in Pesachim (53a) says that one should not eat roast on the 15th of Iyar at night just like we do not eat on Seder night in order not to confuse it with the real Korban Pesach. (Piskei Tshuvos 493:3)
I hope you are realizing that the above writings are primarily from the religious camp. They do things as a tradition. The Kabbalists teach us to never do anything from Tradition. Tradition leads to assimilation they teach. We do everything due to a desire to connect with energy. We eat Matzah, Maror, and Chatzeret (Romaine Lettuce) to connect again to the end of Death. And the hard-boiled egg as a connection to the Sefirah of Gevurah (Judgment) which is the effect of the actions of a Tzadik. It is from this commentary that you are able to decide on your personal Minhag.
Minhag is the word that relates to and is defined as a custom. This is as opposed to a Halacha that applies to every spiritual person; the Minhag applies to certain communities only.
This year Pesach Sheinii happens on the 14th or 15th of Iyar which is the 3rd or 4th of May 2015. These evenings are the 30th and 31st of the Omer, which are Chesed Shebe Hod and Gevurah Shebe Hod. Anyone interested in making the connection both nights?
Lag B'Omer (Hebrew: ל״ג בעומר ), also known as Lag L'Omer amongst Sephardi Jews, is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the thirty-third day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. According to the Talmud and Midrash, this day marks the hillula (celebration, interpreted by some as anniversary of death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of kabbalah in the form of the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. In modern Israel the holiday has evolved to include commemoration of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire. It also has come to be a significant day in the life of young boys who receive their first hair cut on this day, after they have reached their third birthday. If fact i knew one boy whose parents waited until the Lag B'Omer after his third birthday which came 10 months after his third birthday. If you know how long a baby's hair can grow in three years you can imagine the difference in appearance for this child.
Lag B'Omer is Hebrew for "33rd [day] in the Omer". (According to gematria, the Hebrew letter ל (Lamed) or "L" is equivalent to "30" and ג (Gimmel) or "G" is equivalent to "3". A vowel sound is conventionally added for pronunciation purposes.)
Some Jews call this holiday Lag L'Omer, which means "33rd [day] of the Omer" as opposed to Lag B'Omer, "33rd [day] in the Omer." Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson writes in his Likkutei Sichos that the reason why the day should be called Lag B'Omer and not Lag L'Omer is because the Hebrew words Lag B'Omer (ל״ג בעמר), spelled without the "Vav", have the same gematria as Moshe (משה), and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was mystically a spark of the soul of Moses.
The biblical mandate to count the Omer appears in Leviticus 23:15–6, which states that it is a mitzvah to count seven complete weeks from the day after Passover night ending with the festival of Shavuot on the fiftieth day. The 49 days of the Omer correspond both to the time between physical emancipation from Egypt and the spiritual liberation of the giving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai on Shavuot, as well as the time between the barley harvest and the wheat harvest in ancient Israel.
There are a number of explanations for why the 33rd day is treated as a special holiday. The Talmud states that during the time of Rabbi Akiva, 24,000 of his students died from a divinely sent plague during the counting of the Omer. The Talmud then goes on to say that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another, befitting their level; they begrudged each other the spiritual levels attained by their comrades. Jews celebrate Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the count, to celebrate the end of the deaths. Although there are few Jewish traditions saying that they stopped dying on this day, the Tosafists cite sources that they died on 33 days scattered throughout the Omer period, so the 33rd day was designated as a celebration. This is the view recorded in the legal code of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 120:1–10.
After the death of Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students, he taught just five students, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation. The day of Lag B'Omer is also celebrated as the hillula, or yahrtzeit, of bar Yochai, who is purported to have authored the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. According to Jewish tradition, on the day of bar Yochai's death, he revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah. Rabbi Akiva also revealed these secrets to Rabbi Shimon on this day as well.
During the Middle Ages, Lag B'Omer became a special holiday for rabbinical students and was called "Scholar's Day." It was customary to rejoice on this day through outdoor sports.
There are those who dispute that Lag B'Omer is Bar Yochai’s yahrzeit on the basis that it appears that in the original texts of Shaar HaKavanot by Hayyim Vital, Lag B'Omer is referred to as Yom Simchato (Day of his Happiness). Those that defend the position that it was the day of his death cite the tradition that on that day, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai instructed his students to celebrate this day as a holiday to commemorate the vast amount of mystical teachings which he revealed at that time.
Lag B'Omer has another significance based on the Kabbalistic custom of assigning a Sefirah to each day and week of the Omer count. The first week corresponds to Chesed, the second week to Gevurah, etc., and similarly, the first day of each week corresponds to Chesed, the second day to Gevurah, etc. Thus, the 33rd day, which is the fifth day of the fifth week, corresponds to Hod she-be-Hod (Splendor within [the week of] Splendor). As such, Lag B'Omer represents the level of spiritual manifestation or Hod that would precede the more physical manifestation of the 49th day (Malkhut she-be-Malkhut, Kingship within [the week of] Kingship), which immediately precedes the holiday of Shavuot. Thus, Lag B'Omer has a greater potential energy than the Revelation of the Torah since the energy is the same; yet on Lag B'Omer the energy is not limited by the physical worlds manifestation. If you do not understand this send me an email with a question or ask the question now.
The tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron on Lag B'Omer.
While the Counting of the Omer is a semi-mourning period, all restrictions of mourning are lifted on this 33rd day of the Omer. As a result, weddings, parties, listening to music, and haircuts are commonly scheduled to coincide with this day among Ashkenazi Jews. Families go on picnics and outings. Children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and rubber-tipped arrows.
Tachanun, the prayer for special Divine mercy on one's behalf is not said, because when God is showing one a "smiling face," so to speak, as He does especially on the holidays, there is no need to ask for special mercy.
The Sephardi custom is to continue mourning practices through the 33rd day of the Omer and celebrate on the 34th day of the Omer, or LaD B'Omer (ל"ד בעומר).
There are some communities that start the counting of the 33 days on Rosh Chodesh Iyar. This is not to limit the joy and happiness that remains from the Holiday of Pesach.
The Kabbalists keep the mourning practices all through the 49 days. This is due to the 49 days are a period of Harsh Judgment. The other communities indicate that the Hilula of Lag B'Omer modifies the strict judgment. My practice is to follow the Kabbalists.
Israeli boys collect wood for a Lag B'Omer bonfire. The most well-known custom of Lag B'Omer is the lighting of bonfires throughout Israel and worldwide wherever religious Jews can be found. In Los Angeles the Jewish Community congregates at a particular beach and builds a community bonfire where all Jewish Traditions meet. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Renewal, and many others.
In Meron the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar, hundreds of thousands of Jews gather throughout the night and day to celebrate with bonfires, torches, song and feasting. This was a specific request by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai of his students. Some say that as bar Yochai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar, bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings. As his passing left such a "light" behind, many candles and/or bonfires are lit. This tradition also relates to the story in the Zohar about his passing where it is written that a fire surrounded his house on the Hilula and only allowed His Son Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Abba into the house. Also, Rabbi Jossi who passed at the same time for a different reason. Rabbi Shimon served as guarantor for additional length of life for Rabbi Jossi. Thus when Rabbi Shimon left Rabbi Jossi also needed to leave.
The Bnei Yissaschar, a Great Sage who is called by the Name of his most famous Sefer, cites another reason for the lighting of bonfires. On the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said, "Now it is my desire to reveal secrets... The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain..." Daylight was miraculously extended until Rabbi Shimon had completed his final teaching and died. This symbolized that all light is subservient to spiritual light, and particularly to the primeval light contained within the mystical teachings of the Torah. As such, the custom of lighting fires symbolizes this revelation of powerful light.
At the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, the honor of lighting the main bonfire traditionally goes to the Rebbes of the Boyaner dynasty. This privilege was purchased by Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman (ShIita), the first Sadigura Rebbe, from the Sephardi guardians of Meron and Safed. The Sadigura Rebbe bequeathed this honor to his eldest son, Rabbi Yitzchok Friedman, the first Boyaner Rebbe, and his progeny. The first hadlakah (lighting) is attended by hundreds of thousands of people annually; in 2001, the crowd was estimated at 300,000. In recent years the crown is estimated to be closer to 500,000. Also in recent years the guardians have given control of the "event" to more MachMer (Religious) people. They are very strict about mixing of sexes during this event. This sometimes bothers people but it is controlled by the same organization type people as the Western Wall. There has not developed anything like the organization of the "Women of the Wall" if you are familiar with them.
In 1983 Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz, the second Bostoner Rebbe, reinstated a century-old tradition among Bostoner Hasidim to light a bonfire near the grave of Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias on Lag B'Omer night. The tradition had been abandoned due to murderous attacks on participants in the isolated location. After the bonfire, the Rebbe delivered a dvar Torah, gave blessings, and distributed shirayim (songs). Later that same night the Rebbe cut the hair of three-year-old boys for their Upsherin.
According to Zionist ideology (see section below), the bonfires are said to represent the signal fires that the Bar Kokhba rebels lit on the mountaintops to relay messages,[dead link] or are in remembrance of the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans, who had forbidden the kindling of fires that signaled the start of Jewish holidays.
Another custom at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is the giving of chai rotel (Hebrew: ח״י רוטל). The Hebrew letters Chet and Yood are the gematria (numerical equivalent) of 18. Rotel is a liquid measure of about 3 liters. Thus, 18 rotels equals 54 liters or about 13 gallons. It is popularly believed that if one donates or offers 18 rotels of liquid refreshment (grape juice, wine, soda or even water) to those attending the celebrations at Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's tomb on Lag B'Omer, then the giver will be granted miraculous salvation.
According to Taamei Minhagim, many childless couples found success with this segula (propitious practice). Several local organizations solicit donations of chai rotel and hand out the drinks on the donor's behalf in Meron on Lag B'Omer. Nine months after Lag B'Omer, the Ohel Rashbi organization even invites couples who prayed at the tomb and had a child to come back to Meron to celebrate the births.
First haircut for children
It is customary at the Meron celebrations, dating from the time of Rabbi Isaac Luria, that three-year-old boys be given their first haircuts (upsherin), while their parents distribute wine and sweets. Similar upsherin celebrations are simultaneously held in Jerusalem at the grave of Shimon Hatzaddik for Jerusalemites who cannot travel to Meron.
Bows and arrows
Historically, children across Israel used to go out and play with bows and arrows, reflecting the Midrashic statement that the rainbow (the sign of Gods promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 9:11-13) was not seen during Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's lifetime, as his merit protected the world.
In Israel Lag B'Omer is a holiday for children and the various youth movements. It is also marked in the Israel Defense Forces as a week of the Gadna program (youth brigades) which were established on Lag B'Omer in 1941 and which bear the emblem of a bow and arrow.
Lag B'Omer is a popular day for weddings among Ashkenazi Jews (Sephardi Jews hold weddings on Lag B'Omer, the 34th day of the Omer). For those who do not conduct celebrations between Pesach and Lag B'Omer, the date often marks the first opportunity for a wedding in the spring or early summer.
Tish – Chasidic Meal and Teaching
Most Hasidic Rebbes conduct a tish on Lag B'Omer, in addition to or instead of a bonfire. A full meal is usually served, and candles are lit. It is traditional to sing "Bar Yochai", "Ve'Amartem", and "Amar Rebbe Akiva". In Satmar, "Tzama Lecha Nafshi" is sung at the tish in addition to the other songs. Teachings of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, both from the Talmud and the Zohar, are generally expounded upon by Rebbes at their tishen.
A Lag B'Omer parade in front of Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, in 1987.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, encouraged Lag B'Omer parades to be held in Jewish communities around the world as a demonstration of Jewish unity and pride. Chabad sponsors parades as well as rallies, bonfires and barbecues for thousands of participants around the world.
A first-grade classroom in Tel Aviv in 1973 with holiday displays; the Lag B'Omer display showing Bar Kokhba is at left.
In modern Israel, especially with the expansion of the Zionist movement, Lag B'Omer came to include the commemoration of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire (132–136 CE). According to work published by Yael Zerubavel from Rutgers University, a number of Lag B'Omer traditions were modified by the broadly defined "Zionist movement" so to encourage young children to sing and dance around bon-fires while celebrating Bar-Kohba's revolt. The plague that decimated Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 disciples was explained as a veiled reference to the revolt; the 33rd day when the plague ended was explained as the day of Bar Kokhba's victory. By the late 1940s, textbooks for schoolchildren painted Bar Kokhba as the hero while Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Akiva stood on the sidelines, cheering him on which textbooks? Some/all? . This interpretation lent itself to singing and dancing around bonfires by night to celebrate Bar Kokhba's victory, and playing with bows and arrows by day to remember the actions of Bar Kokhba's rebel forces.
In modern Israeli secular culture, Lag B'Omer is "a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit." The Palmach division of the Haganah was established on Lag B'Omer 1941 and the government order creating the Israel Defense Forces was issued on Lag B'Omer 1948. Beginning in 2004, the Israeli government designated Lag B'Omer as the day for saluting the IDF reserves.
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