A Hot Time In The Old (Israeli) Town


Among Ashkenazic Jews, it’s Lag Ba Omer. For Sephardim, it’s Lag LaOmer.

The holiday this week — the name means the 33rd day of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot — is a minor part of the Jewish calendar in many diaspora communities, but a prominent day in Israel. For students, a day off from school. For many workers, a day off from work. For many Israelis, a day of picnics, celebrations and bonfires, as here in Meron.

Lag BaOmer, which marks, according to Jewish tradition, the end of a heaven-sent plague that took the lives of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiba two millennia ago, also is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, reputed author of the Zohar.

In Meron, the Galilean town where he is buried, the grave of Shimon bar Yochai is a pilgrimage site every year on Lag BaOmer. More than a quarter million people congregate on the hilly area every year, turning Meron for a few days into an Israeli Woodstock, a place of camping and praying and boys’ first haircuts.

The restrictions of the Pesach-Shavuot period are lifted on Lag BaOmer, hence parades and wedding, barbecues and parties and live music.

During the Middle Ages, Lag BaOmer became a special day for rabbinical students, known as the “scholar’s festival.”