May 16, 2024
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West Orange Shuls Come Together to Celebrate Lag B’Omer

A community-wide Lag B’Omer celebration came together fairly quickly in West Orange.

“Rabbi Kasowitz [of Chabad of West Orange] and I have been friends for many years,” said Lee Morreale, a member of AABJ&D. “I have attended his Lag B’Omer events for the last few years. I reached out to him to see if we can do something together—AABJ&D, Chabad and Ohr Torah. After two-plus years of COVID I felt people are looking for any reason to get together.”

Generally, Lag B’Omer is celebrated outdoors, preferably in a park somewhere that would allow for a bonfire. “This is because we are celebrating the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai,” Rabbi Kasowitz explained. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a famous Talmudic scholar and sage, one of Rabbi Akiva’s five remaining students who were spared from the terrible plague that killed 24,000. “At a time, Rabbi Shimon hid in a cave with his son while fleeing the Romans who wanted to kill him. During their hiding, they ate from a carob tree, drank from a fresh spring and lit a fire to keep warm in the freezing nights.”

Many years later, after it was safe to come out of hiding, Rabbi Shimon told his students on his deathbed that they should celebrate the day of his passing. “Rabbi Shimon, who authored the Zohar, a foundational book of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), explained that when a person passes away and on each subsequent day of passing, the soul rises to a higher level, bringing the souls great joy.” The bonfire lit on Lag B’Omer represents the soul.

Requiring a venue that could accommodate such a celebration, the team from all three synagogues reached out to Mayor Robert Parisi. “He has always been a great friend to the Jewish community,” Rabbi Kasowitz said. “He thought the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center would be perfect.” The team got approval from the department and all the proper permits, allowing them to have bonfire and barbecues after dark.

“The planning, the food, the music, the bonfire and the archery, were all arranged by local talent and shul members. We kicked around ideas like hiring a band or bringing in a caterer, but in the end, it was decided to keep it organic, simple, for the people, by the people. And it was felt. It was authentic; it was special,” said Rabbi Kasowitz.

Mike Diamond, president of Ohr Torah, organized the volunteers. The end result was a beautiful evening with around 300 members of the West Orange Jewish community in attendance.

Chaim Goldman of AABJ&D organized the food, with a huge spread of hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, corn on the cob, and several side salad options. While the line was always long, it went fast, as people returned for seconds and thirds.

Eitan Hinden directed the music, with a crew made up of West Orange musicians Guy Goldstein, Zalman Miller, Chana Chosak, Norman Cantor and Aron Kestenbaum. Kids danced to the music as their families sat on picnic blankets and lawn chairs, enjoying the melodies.

“We set up together, we prayed together, and we celebrated together. The weather was picture perfect. What more could we ask for?” Rabbi Kasowitz said.

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