Whether you live in Israel or not, Lag BaOmer is probably the only true outdoor festival of the Jewish calendar; Tu B'Shvat, the New Year for Trees, was also reinstituted in modern Israel as such, but includes home customs for family and inclement weather!
The origins of Lag BaOmer are about as clouded in history as the swirls of smoke which inevitably blow into our faces as we open this festival in one of the traditional ways - with a bonfire.
We bring the resources below from several different publications and the inspiration for the activity ideas are in part from more complex programs appearing in the Hafalopedia [Israel Association of Community Centers, Director Dr. Dov Goldberger].
Sources of Customs
Each of the "sources" below is associated with the practice or institution of one custom which symbolises that event.
Each contains one or more elements which can be worked into an activity, as indicated below.
- Source 1:
The counting of the 49 days of the Omer itself from Pesach to Shavuot [link to kit]. There was no Biblical indication that this was a period of mourning or that this day should be one of rejoicing.
- Source 2:
Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students died in this period, with the exception of this day, 18th Iyar. They died because they did not respect one another. Thus a period of mourning ensued with no haircuts, no marriages, no rejoicing.
- Source 3:
The Romans enforced edicts against Jewish practices and study. This day became one when, on pretext of an outing to the forest, Jewish scholars would visit Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai in his secret hide-out. Yet, strangely enough, Jewish study is not a contemporary custom on this day!
- Source 4:
Rabbi Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, was buried on Mt. Meron. He had told his followers to rejoice, not mourn for him.
- Source 5:
During this period of evil edicts, the Jews rebelled. Even the bonfires to proclaim the new lunar month were banned. Shimon Bar Kochba led this revolt against tyranny and the bonfire lighting was reinstituted.
- Source 6:
Customs which stand in opposition to those of mourning centered on this date, including holding of marriages, having one's hair cut [especially a child's first haircut]. Other customs of extirpating evil were judaized: bows and arrows for wishes of luck; burning of hair cut on that day in the bonfire.
1. Chart Variations
For the Class, Group or Crafts session.
7 Customs have been named above. What are they?
You should have:
Celebration at Mt. Meron
Outings / tiyulim
Counting the Omer
Bow & Arrow
Construct a Wall Chart headed:
Create several work stations, two with documents and stationery requirements, one with crafts materials, one with photocopied pictures, paper, scissors and glue.
Divide participants into 7 groups and assign them to fill one line of the chart per group by starting 2 groups at each work station and moving them round every few minutes.
Now paste everything onto the wallchart
The symbols chart is copied from an activity in Hafalopedia
- Prepare some of this yourself as a transparency to help participants get started.
- For the symbol, have participants go on a scavenger hunt to bring back 3-D versions!
- Make the symbols up into play cards for younger children by making 4 sets of 7 "families" [symbols] with different details on each of the family "members".
2. Love or Hate?
For age 14 and upwards.
Rabbi Akiva's disciples are said to have perished from plague because they did not respect each other.
Discuss along the lines:
- How does one respect one's peers?
- Is it possible to respect everyone?
- How do you show respect?
- Should one show respect if one does not feel it?
- Looking around the community, do we respect one another?
- How do the group feel about this and what would improve this?
- What is going on in Israel today in terms of respect for everyone else?
- Where is the limit?
- The group's recommendations....
If you are going to organize a bonfire, safety precautions are essential. Have older students make large, triangular stand-alone safety signs as a crafts activity to place around your school, center or club area where the bonfire will be built. Make the signs visual, with minimal text. Use the Hebrew for Fire "Esh", if you wish.
4. Jewish Folk Stories
A bonfire activity needs atmosphere. This is the time for all sorts of educational stories from the Aggadah and other sources, which you can use before you reach the singalong stage. You can have participants prepare some of these stories ahead of time.
5. The Main Figures
The main figures associated with the day are Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai and Bar Kochba. Focus on stories with a message for the future about preserving Jewish life, respecting each other.
Sites on Lag BaOmer
Jay Richman list of Sites on Lag BaOmer
the Academy (Sydney) BJE
Online lessons for early grades only, basic; http://www.bje.org.au/kids/templateBase_general.php?id=2279
Articles are by the BJE, and are located on quia.com in order to use their interactive games' software.
Bar Ilan University
Lag BaOmer, mysticism, study of the Kabbalah - article.
BJE New York
History, lesson plan, personalities, rebellions, questions, board game.
Focus on Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, with lessons to learn from their experiences.
Introductory, with visuals, for children.
Brief overview, spiritual significance of the story of Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, with Talmudic sources; short poem inspired by Talmud Shabbat 33b.
Basic overview, with special features including Counting the Omer, Talmudic and historical references, lyrics, symbols and deeper meanings.
Brief, clear overview for children, with main sources, online wordsearch.