This past Wednesday evening and Thursday, the Jewish world celebrated the holiday of Lag BaOmer; a joyous day that celebrates Jewish unity and the impact that Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah have on Jewish life.
Lag BaOmer is customarily celebrated outdoors around bonfires, with music, good food and the sharing of thoughts from the Torah and Kabbalah.
In the former Soviet Union, it is an opportunity for Jews to show their Jewish pride and unity. Public displays of Judaism are exciting and greatly meaningful for Jews who suffered under the stifling Soviet Regime.
Jewish music, glowing bonfires and energized celebrations reverberated in the streets of hundreds of Jewish communities as far out as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Children roasted marshmallows and sang songs in Hebrew, feeling distinctly Jewish and proud. Adults gathered together, eating, chatting, and strengthening their connection to their community and nation.
This day marks the day of the passing of the first mystic to publicly share the teachings of Kabbalah, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He requested that the anniversary of his passing be a day of joy and celebration. The day one passes is the culmination of all that he has achieved throughout his life; on Lag BaOmer we celebrate the holy revelations and spiritual connection that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai bequeathed to the Jewish nation.
It is also the day that the plague that had struck the holy students of Rabbi Akiva ceased. The plague was caused by a lack of unity amongst the students and therefore, the plague ending marked a new era of unity and respect for one another.