I’ve always had many positive associations with the holiday of Lag BaOmer. As a child I enjoyed the picnics and baseball games at Flushing Meadow Park, which were a welcome break from school. Anything to get out of the classroom was a positive thing. Another positive association I have with Lag BaOmer is my wedding. Definitely a very worthwhile way to spend the day. Many friends and relatives of mine have also gotten married on Lag BaOmer, so for many years the holiday involved one enjoyable celebration or another. Either my husband and I went to a wedding or we went out for our anniversary.
When we made aliyah, Lag BaOmer was a whole new experience which took some getting used to. Here there are bonfires (medurot) everywhere, which in and of itself, is not a bad thing. The problem is that Smokey the Bear has not yet made it to Israel. I still shudder when thinking about our first Lag BaOmer after making aliyah. I was horrified when we went to a community medurah with our two small children. There were tens of little ones running around the fire in dangerously close proximity to the flames. Sparks were flying everywhere, as were little arms and legs. If that wasn’t enough, tiny children were roasting their hot dogs, potatoes, and marshmallows on the shortest of sticks. Their parents were enjoying the festive evening mingling between themselves, while looking after their kids out of the corner of their eyes. Not my style. My eyes were glued to my kids with superglue, which proved to be almost superfluous, as I barely let go of my tight grip of their hands. At some point, we parents took our little kids home but the young teens stayed by the fire well into the night under the supervision of none other than…themselves. I thanked my lucky stars that I had a few years to strategize how I would handle this scenario when my kids would come of age.
Then there is the whole ascent to Meron. I am fully aware that Lag BaOmer is a very holy day and many people fly to Israel from all over the world to go to Kever Rashbi. There are countless stories of yeshuos brought about by tefilah at Meron on Lag BaOmer, not to mention the inspiration that people bring home with them, both opportunities in which I would love to partake. However, I always shied away from large crowds with my little children, and it didn’t change much as they grew older. The truth is that the number of people who travel to Meron far exceeds the amount of space on that mountain. It defies reality. As a result, I always preferred to stay local with my kids, who were indoctrinated by yours truly with the rules of fire safety.
One year my husband decided to make the trek. I would not go with him. No way. So, he went with my boys and came back with a glowing report. It was amazing! Uplifting! Great atmosphere! So well organized! Free food everywhere! Crowded but not oppressive. He asked that I at least open my mind enough to even contemplate entertaining the possibility of going the following year. Amazing? Organized? All of my worries were really unfounded? Hmmm. Maybe it was something to consider.
The following year Lag BaOmer fell out on Motzaei Shabbos. After Shabbos I came to a decision to take the plunge. My husband had tested the waters and declared them to be safe and welcoming. We drove up north to a parking lot, and from there took the shuttle up the mountain. When we stepped out things seemed to be pretty much as my husband described. It was crowded but bearable. The music was a bit on the loud side but it did add to lively atmosphere. And there was food graciously being served everywhere. We made our way as close to the kever as we could and davened that all of our hopes and tefilos be answered. Then we walked around just a bit in order to get the full experience before heading back down the mountain. Mission accomplished. I did it. I davened at Meron on Lag BaOmer. I was quite proud of myself. Due to the fact that Lag BaOmer came out on Motzaei Shabbos and everyone set out for Meron at the same time rather than spread out over the course of the day, the transportation system set up for Meron crashed. Many people, ourselves included, had to wait for hours for the shuttles to bring them back to the parking lot. As unpleasant as that was, I would not allow it to take away from the uplifting nature of the experience.
This year, Lag BaOmer was of a different variety. Medurot were outlawed and only a select few were invited to participate in the festivities at Meron. So, we had our own Lag BaOmer barbecue/anniversary celebration at home, complete with roasted marshmallows and sorbet, festive music blaring throughout the neighborhood until late at night, and a small dance for the male neighbors with appropriate social distancing. It was amazing, organized, not too crowded, great atmosphere, and lots of free food for all. It was the best Lag BaOmer ever!
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