‘We’re Still Here!’: Jews Across Russia Come Out for Lag BaOmer

From Moscow to Siberia, bonfires, barbecues and parades

By Yaakov Ort | Chabad.org

Russian Jewish communities from Moscow to the edges of Siberia turned their attention this week to the joys of Judaism and Jewish unity on the festive holiday of Lag BaOmer. Throughout the past year, hundreds of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries across the vast nation have remained focused on their singular goal of meeting the spiritual and material needs of the hundreds of thousands of Jews in the communities they serve. There is no more opportune time to do that, they and residents agreed, than through the bonfires, barbecues, parades and gatherings on Lag BaOmer in a Hakhel year.

Lag BaOmer marks the 33rd day of the Sefirat HaOmer, counting the 49 days between the Jewish people’s departure from Egypt on Passover and their receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavuot. In the first century, after the destruction of the Holy Temple, 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague that ceased on the 33rd day of the Omer. Years later, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, one of the surviving students of Rabbi Akiva and the author of the Zohar, the seminal work of Jewish mysticism, passed away on this same day. Before his passing, Rabbi Shimon requested that the day be marked with joy, which Jews have done ever since.

The gathering in Moscow, held on the grounds of the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in the Marina Roscha neighborhood, featured marching bands, face-painting, archery, choir performances by children from Chabad’s nearby Jewish day school, Stump-the-Rabbi gameshow, carnival booths and Jewish-life themed displays.

“The holiday of Lag BaOmer has special significance for our family and the Jewish people here in Russia,” said Elina, 28, of Moscow. “We celebrated it with great joy.”

About 6,000 miles away, in the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok, Jews from throughout the Primorsky Krai region, including from the nearby cities of Artyom and Ussuriysk, gathered at Chabad of Vladivostok to grill kebabs and hold a festive bonfire, an event hosted by Rabbi Shimon and Tzippi Varakin, co-directors of Chabad in the city. The historic synagogue, built by local merchant Leib Skidelsky in 1916 and confiscated by the Communist regime in 1932, was returned to the Jewish community in 2005, and totally renovated by the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC), the country’s central Jewish umbrella organization. The large minyan (quorum) recited the afternoon prayers together, and Rabbi Varakin gave an interactive class on the history and traditions of Lag BaOmer, including its relevance today.

At the approximate halfway point, in central Siberia—at 5.1 million square miles, Siberia is quite large—Rabbi Menachem Rabinovitz, co-director of Chabad of Novokuznetsk with his wife, Chaya Pearl, hosted a gathering attended by more than 100 people. A bear show, illusionist, carnival rides and traditional archery made up the entertainment for children and adults, and included a recitation of the 12 Torah Passages. “At the end, as night fell, we had a large bonfire and everyone sat around singing traditional songs for hours,” said Rabbi Rabinovitz. “That’s what’s most special about such a celebration: Jews, gathering as one and in the way of Torah and mitzvot, and spending time together. It’s simple but powerful.”

In Novokuznetsk, a bear show, illusionist, carnival rides and traditional archery made up the entertainment for children and adults, and included a recitation of the 12 Torah Passages.

“It was 32 degrees Celsius [(90 degrees Fahrenheit]), which is almost impossible in Siberia for this time of the year,” explained Rabbi Benjamin Wagner, co-director of Chabad of Krasnoyarsk, a few hundred miles northeast of Novokuznetsk. We gathered 200 people—these were children from our kindergarten and Sunday school, as well as their parents, and others from the youth club, and were able to have an amazing outdoor Lag BaOmer festival.” As community members shot bows and arrows, enjoyed a barbecue and the concert that followed, there was a feeling that something special was going on in their corner of the earth.

“It wasn’t just unseasonable weather,” said Wagner. “It was a Lag BaOmer miracle.”

In the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk unusually hot weather made for a joyous day outdoors.

Photo gallery of Lag BaOmer Across Russia.

Rostov on Don
St. Petersburg



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