Thursday, November 21, 2019

Young family watches the bonfire. (Credit: Rabbi Joseph Robinson)

Kids roasting marshmallows. (Credit: Rabbi Joseph Robinson)

Riverdale Y bonfire. (Credit: Rabbi Joseph Robinson)

On Thursday, May 23, Jewish communities around the world celebrated Lag BaOmer. The Riverdale Jewish Community Partnership hosted its annual Lag BaOmer celebration. Over 200 people attended the evening, which was filled with music, Israeli cuisine, a bounce castle, face painting, kids’ activities, s’mores and, of course, a bonfire!

“This is to celebrate the 33rd day of the Omer. It is a break from the semi-mourning period between Passover and Shavuot,” explained Rabbi Joseph Robinson, director of community engagement at the Riverdale Y. “Additionally, this is an opportunity for our Israeli community members to embrace a cultural piece of home, here in the states. We hope to provide an authentic and memorable experience for all.”

“Customarily we lighten the mourning period of the Omer with joy and happiness. Though we may not have a wedding happen here (which often takes place on Lag BaOmer), we will connect to the day itself in a lot of other ways. The fire reminds us of the light Shimon Bar Yohai brought into the world. The bows and arrows remind us of the battles of Rabbi Akiva’s students.”

SAR Academy Principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss described, “Aside from our Lag BaOmer barbecue we have our annual student-faculty Michael Schreck Memorial basketball game. Teams raise funds for students spending a year in Israel.” Krauss added, “Michael Schreck, z’l, was the longtime executive director of SAR, who cared deeply for the welfare of every child and family.”

“Holiday celebrations provide occasions for teachers and students to express their commitment to our school’s core values while enjoying the celebrations. Lag BaOmer is no exception!” expressed Deganit Ronen, principal of the Westchester Torah Academy. “Lag BaOmer affirms our commitment to Talmud Torah just like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who serve as role models for teachers and students alike. After learning how Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son spent 13 years in a cave learning Torah while hiding from the Romans, middle school students explored a text from the Gemara in which Tanaim discussed whether Talmud Torah should be practiced along with Derech Eretz.” 

Ronen added, “Lag BaOmer has also given us an exciting opportunity to spend time outdoors in activities geared for team building and friendly competition while engaging in fun activities with friends from other grades. Relay races (Romans against the Jews) and the parachute popcorn game (simulating how Rabbi Akiva’s students joyfully gathered around him in a sign of support and dedication) were but a few games the WTA community played outdoors and learned about the holiday. The games ended with roasting marshmallow around a bonfire. The light of the bonfire reminded our students of the minhag to light a yahrzeit candle on the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s death.”

“Prior to the field day, WTA students created friendship cards. Upon opening them, a paper-cut bonfire popped up to reveal Rabbi Akiva’s teaching: ‘Love Your Neighbor as Yourself’ was written as a frame around the bonfire,” she said. “This activity was led by WTA’s Schluchot Bnei Akiva who enhance formal learning with many creative, informal activities. Early childhood learners explored themes of friendship and kindness to friends and classmates. They decorated the classrooms with bonfire collages and other fire creations while their voices filled our hearts with spirited songs and dances.”

Each year at Westchester Day School, the joy of Lag BaOmer is coupled with its annual color war. “For two days, students in grades one through eight compete, led by the eighth grade,” described Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, head of school at WDS. “Color war is both competitive and fun but also a great example of teamwork, good middot, camaraderie. Students come together in song, art, sports and dance. Lag BaOmer is a time of celebration for two reasons. One, the plague that killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva stopped. They were being punished for not treating each other with honor and respect. Two, it’s the celebration of the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who was not only famous for his Zohar but also for the expression, ‘With friendship, does everything depend.’ Color war is a true celebration of friendship and camaraderie, where competition is done in the spirit of including everybody, celebrating each student and coming together as an entire school!”

The students at Kinneret Day School took a moment to enjoy the outdoors with a Lag BaOmer outdoor experience at Van Saun Park in Bergen County. “They take in the zoo and rides. Our older students have a Lag BaOmer color war filled with sport, spirit and also Torah and history quiz bowls,” revealed Rabbi Aaron Frank, head of school. “Students learn about the importance of unity in classrooms through the stories of Rabbi Akiva and others.”

By Judy Berger

 

 

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