Last night, we concluded the celebration of Lag B’Omer, a minor, festive holiday that falls on the 33rd day of the seven-week period between Passover and Shavuot, a period of time known as the omer. To me, it was always the "bonfire holiday," but I learned much more.
An omer (“sheaf”) is an ancient Hebrew measure of grain. Biblical law forbade any use of the new barley crop until after an omer was brought as an offering to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Book of Leviticus (23:15-16) commands: “And from the day on which you bring the offering…you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete.” This commandment led to the practice of the “Counting of the Omer,” or the 49 days which begins on the second day of Passover and ends with the celebration of Shavuot on the 50th day.
Lag B’Omer commemorates a variety of historical events, including the end of a plague that killed many students of Rabbi Akiva (c. 50-135 CE), the yahrzeit of mystical scholar Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and a Jewish military victory over Roman forces in 66 CE. In traditional Jewish communities, the holiday is a break from restrictions that include no parties or events with music, no weddings, and no haircuts. Thus, on this holiday people celebrate with picnics and bonfires and many couples in Israel choose to get married.
One special place for Lag B’Omer in Israel is Meron, a small mountain village a few miles west of Safed that once a year undergoes a remarkable transformation. Each year on Lag B'Omer, more than 250,000 Jews of all descriptions converge upon it from all parts of the country. They are making their annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a first-century rabbi, Kabbalist, and leader of the Jewish people, who contributed greatly to the Mishnah, is often quoted in the Talmud, and who authored the Kabbalistic Zohar.
Why does everyone go to the rabbi’s tomb on Lag B'Omer? The holiday is the anniversary of his death and the celebration was a specific request of him to his students. On that day, Rabbi bar Yochai revealed to his students many great mystical secrets of the Kabbalah, and this was a cause for great joy. Many bonfires are lit across the country representing "the spiritual fire that Rabbi bar Yochai brought into the world," and people sing and dance throughout the night.
I hope you were able to enjoy your holiday celebration.
I want to share some exciting national opportunities for young people in our Jewish community:
May is National Mental Health Awarenesss Month. One of the greatest challenges today is the mental health of young people. I am pleased to share that BeWell is a new national Jewish initiative dedicated to promoting the well-being of young people. With BeWell, teens and young adults can find support and tools to respond to the growing mental health concerns of people aged 12 to 26, and resources for parents, caregivers, and Jewish professionals. Learn more about these resources here and also contact Jewish Family and Child Service
, which has expanded its service offerings for young people.
The Jewish Changemakers Fellowship is a leadership development experience for Jewish young adults between the ages of 20 to 24 that focuses on career development, making a difference in the community, and connecting with peers. You can learn more here.
Just last week, a flight of 80 Ukrainian refugees safely made aliyah to Israel because of the help of several people in our Jewish community. These funds were additional contributions from former members of the National Young Leadership Cabinet, including several from Portland. In addition to those who went to Israel, some 200 seniors remaining in Kyiv will receive medical support for the months ahead. Developing young leaders and educating them about the joys of philanthropy only benefits our community for the long-term.
A little history lesson…
On May 20, 1873, 149 years ago today, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno, Nevada, were given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world’s most famous garments -- blue jeans.
In San Francisco, Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and worked as the West Coast representative of his family’s firm. His new business imported clothing, fabric and other dry goods to sell in the small stores opening all over California and other Western states to supply the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners and other settlers. By 1866, Strauss was a well-known businessman and supporter of the Jewish community in San Francisco.
Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, was one of Levi Strauss’ regular customers. In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points -- at the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly -- to make them stronger. Davis did not have the $81 needed to apply for a patent so he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and the two men share the patent together. Strauss agreed, and the patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings” -- the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them. And the rest is history.
One additional “nugget," Levi Strauss funded for many years the gold medal awarded to the “Best Sabbath School Student” at
Temple Emanu-el in San Francisco. Would you have won that award?