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Gather round the campfire

May 2016

I love campfires — the savoring of tasty s’mores, baked potatoes, and roasted corn; singing songs while some-one strums a guitar; sharing stories old and new; and hud-dling and cuddling with good friends. It all feels great.

Every time I sit with friends around a bonfire it brings back a flood of memories: of the Girl Scouts, Camp Ramah, and, yes, Israel. Hiking, camping, and bonfires are part of the Israeli culture, much more so than in the States. The popularity of the “kumzitz” is most evi-dent in Israel during the Hebrew month of Iyar, especially on the minor festival of Lag B’Omer, or 33rd day of the Omer. The period of the Counting of the Omer begins the second night of Passover and continues for seven weeks; on the 50th day the holiday of Shavuot begins.

Traditionally the Omer is a period of mourning as we remember the time of Rabbi Akiva — who lived at the end of the first century CE and into the second — and the occurrence of a plague that caused the tragic death of many of his disciples.

Lag B’Omer represents a break in the mourning, a day on which we can celebrate with weddings, picnics, haircuts (which traditionally are not done during mourn-ing). On that day, throughout Israel, people celebrate at bonfires and picnics. To experience the mystical aspects of this day, many make a pilgrimage to Mount Meron near Safed, the traditional burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the second-century rabbi who wrote the Sefer HaZohar, The Book of Radiance— which became the central text to the kabbalists.

Bar Yochai’s writings are considered the “spiritual light” — and the Lag B’Omer bonfires are a way to physically embody his contributions. Since the 15th century, each year on Lag BaOmer, the tomb of Bar Yochai becomes the site of hilulah, not the annual yahrtzeit of grieving but a joyous occasion on which the life of the deceased is celebrated rather than mourned. I love this! We learn from the mystics of the past and pil - grims of today that celebration of a memory can light up a mountain.

Many congregants have adopted the custom of mark-ing a yahrtzeit of loved ones not only by concentrating on memories but also through a celebratory action. Many have told me that on the anniversary of the death of a mother, father, other family member, or friend, they have chosen to do a mitzvah by volunteering, visiting the sick, or perform-ing some other positive act to add meaning to the day. Cele-brating the life of a person by enacting the values we learned from him or her is a beautiful way to mark a yahrtzeit.

 On Lag B’Omer, this year on Thursday, May 26, con-sider taking part in an outdoor activity: hiking, picnick-ing, or inviting family and friends to sit around a bonfire. Another way to mark the day is to “become the bon-fire”— by adding light to our community.

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 It is a bittersweet for me and the CAI Education Depart-ment as we say goodbye to Marisa Bergman. As the reli-gious school principal and teen coordinator she has been a valuable colleague. She has helped us achieve our goals and created new dreams for our community. The staff, parents, and children are indebted to her for her dedica-tion and friendship. We wish her success in her new posi-tion as education director at Adath Shalom in Morris Plains. Join us in saying “Shalom” to Marisa on Sunday, May 15, at 10:45 a.m. on the last day of Religious School.

Eat a s’more! Enjoy the month of May!

April 19,2024 /  11 Nisan 5784