Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Celebrating Lag b'Omer 

Around 9pm tonight, I heard some loud noises from the alleyway and I thought, "Oh, no..." But the noises sounded festive, celebratory. I looked out and noticed two buildings down a large bonfire and many people dancing around it, playing drums, shakers, and singing. I thought, "Oh, good...hippies, must be some sort of solstice." An hour later it was still going on and I was beginning to be disturbed by the noise. I thought for sure there must be a noise ordinance. I put on a coat and stepped out onto the patio to try and see what was going on, to see if I could get a feel for who they were and what they were celebrating. After about five minutes of my standing out there, and a lot of drumming and singing, the police did indeed show up and said to them, very cordially, that they needed to keep quiet now. After the police left, one of them waved to me and said hello. I waved back and said hello. They asked if I would like to join them. Curious, I said, "What are you celebrating?" "It's a religious celebration," came the reply. "Oh," I inquired, "for which religion?" "Judaism." I walked down the stairs and towards their fire pit. I'm not overly familiar with all the Jewish holidays, but I think I know the big ones, and none of them are going on now. So, I was interested. I met several of them, and they invited me to join their party. I was offered and took a s'more. Turns out they were celebrating a specific part of Safirat Ha'Omer, The Counting of the Omer, called Lag b'Omer, The 33rd of the Omer (counting time). (Thirty-third being represented as "lag" comes from the letter lamed representing the number 30 and the letter gimel representing the number 3 - put the two together, "lamed-gimel", shorten it and you get "lag".)

Oddly enough, as they explained the holiday, I noted with great curiosity that the Omer corresponds to the Great Fifty Days of Easter. In Christianity, there are fifty days from Easter (which took place at Passover - "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us...) to Pentecost (when the early followers of the Way were gathered to celebrate their traditional holiday, Shavu'ot).

In Judaism, there are fifty days from Pesach (Passover) to Shavu'ot (the celebration of the giving of the Torah). The similarities are stunning.

Giving of the Torah. Giving of the Holy Spirit.

This holiday, for them, has mystic implications as well, and is wrapped up somewhat in the tradition of Kabbalah. Some say Rabbi Akiba, traditionally thought of as the author of the Zohar, the book of Kabbalah so to speak, died on this day. Turns out I was halfway right with my first guess of hippies. Just that they are Jewish hippies. I learned a lot about free artistic expression, some pilgrimage a bunch of them go on called Burning Man to the desert of Nevada, and the importance of community and community living. We chatted about Israel (the woman whose apartment it is, my actual neighbor, lived there for 13 years in a socialistic community), about this holiday, about who they are in relation to other Jews (as in they gather on their own to worship and experience liturgy and ritual, rather than participate in a traditional synagogue), and all manner of other things. My conversational Hebrew was embarrassing, but they were amused by my attempts. It was kinda neat; it was a blessing to me to participate in this little bit of their celebration. I quickly went from being disturbed to feeling blessed and was glad I didn't get angry with them for making too much noise. And it was a darn good s'more.



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