“Lag B’omer is actually one of the few holidays which is celebrated in every single sector of Jewish Israel, from secular to ultra-Orthodox communities,” notes Itai Kremer, the Yachad Program’s Jewish Cultural Facilitator in Bat Yam. ” And yet, the average Israeli has absolutely no idea about the origins of the festival and what the bonfire even represents,” he laments. “The Yachad Program is here to change that.”
Indeed, Yachad’s Jewish Cultural Facilitators across Israel led classes and workshops prior to Lag B’Omer, introducing kindergartners, teenagers, families and senior adults to their ancestors Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and Bar Kochba through bow-and-arrow making, baking pitot on taboons, and competitive survival games. The facilitators then followed up on their preparatory sessions with massive, communal bonfires on the night of the festival itself, complete with Israeli songs, storytelling, grilled foods and much camaraderie.
“Yachad constantly strives to illustrate to Israelis who consider themselves secular that Jewish traditions are fun, relevant and meaningful,” explains Betzalel Safra, Yachad’s director. One of the ways in which Kremer accomplished this goal in Bat Yam was by making sure that “Rabbi Akiva” dropped by some of the educational bonfires to interact with participants through jokes and stories about “his” life, as pictured above.
All in all, thousands of native Israelis and new immigrants of all ages were given a glimpse into the Jewish origins of the festival this year.