For a minor holiday, Lag b’Omer draws a major crowd.
The 33rd day in the Sefira period of counting the Omer daily between Passover and Shavuot (lag is the Hebrew acronym for 33), Lag b’Omer has grown into a celebration that crosses the nation in Israel, and crosses denominational barriers in the United States.
Lag b’Omer begins this week on Saturday night.
Because Lag b’Omer celebrations typically are big events, requiring, at some venues, thousands of police and other security personnel, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has urged that this year’s gatherings be delayed by a day, to prevent officers who start their preparations before nightfall on Saturday night to avoid desecrating Shabbat.
Residents of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem’s central haredi neighborhood, take part in Lag b’Omer festivities, above.
The biggest Lag b’Omer celebration in Israel takes place each year in Merom, a village in the north whose population swells by more than 200,000 for the week of the holiday. Israelis and visitors come there to camp out, hold picnics and visit the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the second century sage and author of the Zohar who is credited with revealing the secrets of Jewish mysticism on Lag b’Omer.
In other circles, children go out to Israeli fields on that date armed with bows and rubber-tipped arrows, many communities hold parades, and everyone lights bonfires.
Lag b’Omer has evolved into a symbol of Israel’s fighting spirit — the Palmach division of the Haganah was established on that date in 1941, and the government order that created the Israeli Defense Forces was issued then in 1948.