“Lag B’Omer is one of the Jewish festivals celebrated by all Israelis, not just the Orthodox,” notes Eran Yunger, the Yachad Program Jewish Cultural Facilitator in Tel Aviv. “No matter where you go in the weeks leading up to the festival you’ll see kids dragging wood to the site of their bonfire and preparing for the big night. But the average Israeli has no idea about the origins of Lag B’Omer, or that the bonfire has a spiritual message behind it,” he says. “That’s where we come in.”
In the week before the festival, Yachad’s 32 facilitators led workshops, happenings and classes in 80 community centers across Israel. “Our facilitators introduced Israelis of all ages to their ancestors Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba through exciting interactive initiatives,” reports Yachad Program director Betzalel Safra. “They went into the kindergartens, met with teens and senior adults, held survival games, bow-and-arrow contests and baking on taboons,” he says.
“Our bonfire represented the culmination of a week’s worth of educational activity,” confirms Hod Hasharon’s facilitator, Mordechai Harel. “We had a massive blaze, grilled food and lots of singing. Suddenly there was a visitor: “Rabbi Akiva” himself came to regale the children with stories and funny vignettes from his life. As history came alive, the meaning of Lag B’Omer became much more real for everyone there.”
Ultimately, says Safra, Lag B’Omer exemplifies the Yachad message of sharing the Torah’s light. “On Lag B’Omer we mark the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who brought spiritual light into the world with the revelation of the Zohar, his Book of Radiance,” he remarks. “This is Yachad. This is our mission, to fan the spark in the hearts of each and every Jew, no matter what his or her background or age, and to build it into a flame strengthened by the values and traditions of our Jewish heritage.”