Lag BaOmer

Lag BaOmer is a break, a time out, a moment to recall an ancient plague that may or may not have occurred, and perhaps a moment for reflection. It comes just past the middle of the 50 days which we count from the liberation to the responsibility of law, from Pesach to Shavuot. And perhaps, it comes to remind us that every now and then one must step back to reflect on what has been accomplished in the journey.

In 1983, in his book The Land of Israel, Amos Oz wrote the following:

“Perhaps it was a lunatic promise: to turn, in the space of two or three generations, masses of Jews, persecuted, frightened, full of love-hate toward their countries of origin, into a nation that would be an example for the Arab community, a model of salvation for the entire world.”

Thirty years later, there may be some who find these words haunting, a lament that might be true. Israel is under siege from many sides. There is an organized effort afoot to boycott, divest and sanction Israel just for being Israel. Peace treaties signed with neighbors may be falling apart. Peace with the Palestinians remains elusive. The income gap between rich and poor is a growing witness to the “tentifada” of the summer of 2011. The fair and equal treatment of women is a hot topic, and internal Jewish tension based on religion is at an all time high.

With all of its issues; Israel today is a teeming, growing, cantankerous, prosperous society, fraught with the problems of other societies, better than most. It is a country striving for excellence and sometimes falling short. There is light coming from Israel.

Israel is contributing everyday to the betterment of the world. It has produced the dual core processor for computers, cameras that a patient swallows to allow for better medical diagnostics and a robot that performs spinal surgery. Israel was central to the development of the cell phone, drip irrigation and the science of desalinization. On a humanitarian level, Israel’s IsraAid provides services and comfort the world over. It was Israel which set up the first field hospital in Haiti. These results are a reflection of the positive, the productive, and the proud side of Israeli society.

We in America have had the privilege of helping Israel grow and prosper. We fought for the freedom of the Jews in the Soviet Union and then helped to bring them home. The same efforts were made for the Jews of Ethiopia. We funded business incubators, immigration, and education for those in need. Some have tired of the journey and say, “enough, let’s just stop in the middle, end the journey at Lag BaOmer.” And of course, the Sabra attitude of Israelis does not always make it easy or pleasant to participate in the full reclamation of our place as free Jewish people, in our own land, the land of Israel.

And yet, we must continue on our journey. Now is not the time to rest. Israel has much to offer to us, just as we have much to offer to Israel. Our American Jewish experience, especially in the area of religion, will be critical to a healthy Israeli society. In America, the state is absent from the support of religion and religion is stronger because of the separation. Personal status is personal and observance is voluntary. People of all faiths in America are faithful by choice. The result is the most religiously observant country in the world. This is a lesson which we are obligated to teach Israel. Jews and Judaism are stronger when we are Jews by choice. Israel’s society and culture as the environment to grow creative, innovative, and meaningful expressions of Judaism is certainly stronger than the American environment. None the less, the lessons learned here are ones that   Israel needs our continuing efforts to learn…

Oz concludes his view of Israel 1983 with words that resonate today, that are the message of Lag BaOmer, of being on the journey.

“Not the land of the hart and not the diving city reunited…but simply the State of Israel. Not the Maccabeans reborn that Herzl talked of, but a warm hearted, hot tempered Mediterranean people that is gradually learning, through great suffering and in a tumult of sound and fury, to find release from the bloodcurdling nightmares of the past and from the delusions of grandeur, both ancient and modern.”

There are no shortcuts on the journey, but it is easier, better, and shorter if we walk it together.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah

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Rabbi Daniel Allen

About Rabbi Daniel Allen

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is the Executive Director of ARZA, and has served as the CEO of the American Friends of Magen David Adom and the United Israel Appeal. Allen is considered a leading expert on Israel and American Jewish Philanthropy.

10 Responses to “Lag BaOmer”

  1. avatar

    Thank you so much for this exquisite portrayal of Israel and all of her nuanced complexities … the sacred messiness (to borrow from R’ Kula) of it all.

    Thank you, particularly, for the “permission” granted by this line: “And of course, the Sabra attitude of Israelis does not always make it easy or pleasant to participate in the full reclamation of our place as free Jewish people, in our own land, the land of Israel.” As a woman whose journey vis-a-vis Eretz Yisrael was profoundly (and negatively) influenced by the attitudes of the Reform Jewish household of my youth, it was precisely this “hard to love” quality of Israeli politics, attitudes, that pushed me away. Thus, as a 46 yr. old, I am devastated and embarrassed to have not yet visited our homeland … and hope that funds and circumstances will, bimhera yameinu, allow me to rectify this in the not-too-distant future. We emphasize the pilgrimage of our young people and all denominations and many additional Jewish organizations provide substantial cost reduction for those under 40 -students, educators, etc. Those of us who “missed the boat” of youth are not quite so fortunate …

    Again, many thanks. Please correct the typo in the second Oz quote … heart vs. hart … lev 🙂

    • avatar
      Jordan Friedman Reply May 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Don’t be embarrassed, Ms. Shimberg! There is no shortage of sound philosophical and political reasons to take a cautious attitude regarding Israel. I have not yet been there myself, though I eagerly await the opportunity. The “attitudes of the Reform Jewish household of your youth” are not to be dismissed–many of the reasons for Reform’s former caution in the area of Zionism are still valid today. What’s changed is the fact that “caution” no longer dictates that we reject Zionism outright–we need to respond to the today’s realities carefully and thoughtfully, and that seems to be what most liberal Zionists are doing. Hopefully, one day Israel will live up to the liberal Zionist dream.

  2. avatar

    I would honestly rather have read a piece about Lag B’Omer, rather than a rally-round-Israel piece disguised by an imprecise title. RJs already rally. It would be nice if we actually talked in-depth about our holidays in literal rather than metaphoric terms once in a while. It’s no longer 1890. Some of us are actually counting the Omer. Our RJ tradition allows for that. A piece actually detailing discussion of Lag B’Omer would have been of great value–and, frankly, expected–with a title like this. This is yet one more opportunity for non-Liberal Jewish websites to teach RJs things that our own movement’s websites fear to touch.

    • avatar
      Jordan Friedman Reply May 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      I certainly agree with you that it’s important for non-Orthodox movements to provide authentically non-Orthodox contexts for understanding as many aspects of normative “tradition” as possible. Anything that theoretically CAN be done in a way that does not conflict with liberal Jewish values should be considered “allowed” or “fair game”, so that people who hunger for these things won’t be drawn in my mindless orthopraxy.

      While my ideas of Jewish practice are in many ways like the Reform Jews of 1890 who you seem to love to deride, I realize that when push comes to shove, the core values are more important than the outer forms (or lack thereof). I would be lying if I didn’t say that I feel a tinge of sadness when I see Reform Jews doing extremely traditional things, but it would be foolish to suppose that their deeply-held values are illiberal. As much as I adore Union Prayer Book services with choir, organ, and no head coverings, I would much rather attend a service with tefillin and shuckling than sit home alone. As long as I’m with people who have a worldview that doesn’t conflict with religious liberalism, we’re golden!

    • Kate Bigam

      Hi, Michael. Thanks for your comment. I’m sure you can understand that as the Executive Director of ARZA, Rabbi Allen’s posts are typically Israel-centric – however, we’re committed to representing a variety of viewpoints, not just about Lag BaOmer but on all the topics we cover on our blog, both from URJ staff as well as from congregants, clergy, & partners. To this end, we’ve published a few other posts on Lag BaOmer this year, including,

      Counting Our Blessings
      Galilee Diary: New Grain
      Living Lag BaOmer
      Little Sleep, Lots of Smoke
      • …& possibly a couple more to come.

      I know we’ve cross-posted from Carless Chicago in the past, but I’d like to invite you to write for us at any time. We’d be more than happy to feature your voice. Please feel free to send something along at any time – including if you’d like to put something together quickly on how you observe Lag BaOmer & what counting the Omer means to you.

    • Larry Kaufman

      I think it’s kind of hard to talk about Lag B’Omer in literal terms, since it’s a metaphor within a metaphor. You may be actually counting — are you actually bringing a sheaf?

      As Rabbi Allen eloquently reminds us, the counting of the Omer is in contemporary terms a reminder of the journey from redemption to revelation — but revelation itself is not the end of the journey. As a member of the national board of the organization that Rabbi Allen leads, I am delighted that he is so quick to seize any occasion to tie our spiritual journey to our physical journey, which coincide in an Israel that is a light to the nations.

      While you are on solid ground in wishing that Rabbi Allen’s post had been more descriptively titled, you’re jumping into swampland when you conclude that our movement’s websites fear to touch in-depth discussion of our holidays. Had you said “fail to touch” you would still have been wrong, but you would not have been impugning the intellectual and religious integrity of the gatekeepers of our web content.

  3. Rabbi Daniel Allen

    Dear friends,

    Thanks for all your comments. I generally share with Larry the view that one of our tasks is to look at our traditions in the broadest possible way and always to include Israel. While not all our traditions sprang from that sacred soil, most did or can be traced to moments live by our people in Israel. We are living in the earliest stages of what is still the most remarkable story of any people on the face of the earth – being a diaspora reborn in its original place. We need to revel in this glory.

    One can only hope that each of us has the opportunity to experience Israel in some way first hand in a visit. Agnon, the great Israeli writer and nobel laureate, was asked how long it would take to see Israel. In a day, yes. In a week, yes. In a month, yes. In a year – it is not possible, he said, due to its complexity the deeper you go.

    P.S. the Hart is a deer found in Israel.

    Kol Tuv.

  4. avatar

    “How Fair are your tents, O Jacob,
    Your dwellings O Israel…” was not the message I heard today from a Chabad Rabbi at a “Lag Fest” celebration and concert sponsored by our city’s Reform, Conservative, Orthodox Synagogues, Chabad House, JCC, and Jewish Federation.

    No, The Chabad rabbi’s message was much more interesting and inspiring– he explained not only the ‘history’ of Lag B’Omer but its reason, and why we need to remember its ‘gift’ — how we need to remember tolerance for each other, of caring for one another — that regardless of how we may live our lives we should nurture and respect one another… because we all are Jews…

    How strange then it is to read article above and realize this land you speak of does not want liberal Jews nor our nontraditional ways, how it does not recognize our rabbis — especially our female rabbis, nor our conversions, nor our traditions.

    Yet you sweep these things aside as if they did not exist and you ask me to go visit a place that does not accept ‘a certain kind of Jew’ [you and me]?

    Imagine you were doing business day after day, year after year with someone that kicks you in the shins or spits on you at every opportunity and you ignore it because “one day they will learn and act as is appropriate” but that day never comes. Still you keep doing business with them and their bad behavior continues. There is a time to say “Enough!” or accept the fact that they will never change and stop doing business with them or find constructive ways to modify their behavior rather than making excuses or ignoring it.

    We need to take responsibility for our abuse and exclusion… and finally do something about it. I think that time is past due.

  5. avatar

    Joel, “We need to take responsibility…and finally do something about it.” So what’s your solution? Stop doing business? (which you said in the previous sentence). What does that mean? A boycott? Turning our backs on them?

  6. Rabbi Daniel Allen

    No one, least of all ARZA as the single largest funder of our Israel Movement and the work of the Israel Religious Action Center, is sweeping anything under the rug. On the contrary we are workers and advocates for both/and not either/or.

    We work everyday to change Israeli soceity, to assist our movement in Israel to be a voice in the public square. We have supported the law suits that have led to no gender seperation by law on public transportation. We are hopefull that soon the Miri Gold case- to have the government provide funding for our rabbis in Israel- will be successful.

    At the same time Israel needs our assistance in its own defense. Helping to create a more democratic inclusive society is one form of defense. The other is to say to those who would boycott Israel, who would sanction Israel, and who would divest from companies who do business in Israel – it is unacceptable. There is no other country in the world who’s legitimacy is questioned. Not even North Korea. Why Israel.

    Is it that the world can not deal with strong Jews? I am not sure. What I do know is that Jews abandoning other Jews is wrong. What I do know is that each of us is obligated to make the Jewish world and the general world better everyday. Turning one’s back on Israel because we have not yet achieved our goals is not the answer. Join in the struggle, build a strong support effort in your congregation and among your friends. This is not a zero sum game nor will it be a short game. The effort to free Jews from the Soviet Union was not won in one washington demonstration but in years of work, working with the U.S. and other governments, and in the arena of world politics. We won. We will win in our efforts to create a more equitable Israeli society. Join us.

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