On Lag B’Omer, this year beginning Wednesday, May 18, after sunset, there will be a reprieve from the days of semi-mourning that began after Pesach. The mourning is for the students of Rabbi Akiva who perished during a plague. But the rejoicing is for the end of the plague, which stopped on the 33rd day of the Omer, and for the yahrtzeit of one of the five surviving students, the great kabbala teacher Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who passed away on that day.
“Before his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his students not to mourn his death but to celebrate that his soul returns to his creator,” said Rabbi Epraim Simon of Chabad of Teaneck. “He wanted his students to celebrate his life on the day of his passing, and the values and Torah he shared. Bonfires and singing and dancing outdoors reflect the kabbalistic element he wanted.”
“On the 33rd day of the Omer count, known as Lag B’Omer, people get together, dance and sing and make it a day of Jewish pride. Children celebrate their Jewishness,” said Rabbi Shmuel Konikov of Chabad of Englewood. “Some have a parade to celebrate.”
Both Chabad of Teaneck and Chabad of Englewood are celebrating with family activities. In Teaneck, the Chabad House will have a barbecue, petting zoo, face painting and bounce house, plus an indoor magic show. Chabad of Englewood is hosting a barbecue at Madison Park with a BMX (bicycle moto cross) show, petting zoo, pony rides and activities.
While weddings are halachically prohibited during Sefirat Ha’Omer, the prevailing Ashkenazic custom is to allow weddings on the evening of Lag B’Omer, a practice endorsed by R. Moshe Feinstein. “It’s the first time people can make weddings again,” said Rabbi Avraham Wein, assistant rabbi at Keter Torah in Teaneck, which has many weddings booked in their newly renovated ballroom beginning after Lag B’Omer. “It’s a great time for a joyous occasion.”
For wedding planners, Lag B’Omer marks the beginning of their busiest season. “Once Lag B’Omer comes, weddings return in full force,” said Rena Soclof, of Rena Soclof Events. She said most of the COVID restrictions are gone. “People are more relaxed and excited to celebrate,” she said. “We’re living with COVID but it’s mostly behind us. I’m looking forward to a phenomenal season.”
Esther Katz, of Extraordinary Events by Esther, said she’s not only booked after Lag B’Omer through the summer but has dates booked for winter as well. “Weddings are back and bigger than ever,” she said. “Thank God, we’re back to normal, and what better way to celebrate life than to celebrate a simcha.”