Lag B’Omer for Beginners

Lag B’Omer falls on day 33 of  counting the Omer, the count of days from Passover to Shavuot. (Follow the link if you want to learn more about the Omer and how to count it.) It gets its name from the number 33, lamed-gimel, which can be pronounced as “Lahg.”

It is a festive minor holiday, a short respite from the semi-solemnity of the Omer. During the Omer season, traditionally we avoid celebrations such as weddings. We are so serious because we are remembering a plague that killed many of Rabbi Akiva’s students. According to the story, the plague stopped on the 19th of Iyyar, so we pause then for some minor festivities.

It is a very minor holiday, not mentioned in the Torah at all. Some of the customs of the day:

WEDDINGS – Lag B’Omer is the one day during the Omer when weddings are traditionally performed.

PARTIES – Parties are often held on Lag B’Omer, precisely because they are discouraged otherwise between Passover and Shavuot.

HAIRCUTS – Some Jews do not cut their hair during the Omer. On Lag B’Omer, they can get a haircut. It’s also the traditional day for children’s first haircuts.

BONFIRES – Bonfire parties are particularly popular on Lag B’Omer. In the northern hemisphere, spring weather is well-established by that day.

In 5775 (spring of 2015) Lag B’Omer begins at sundown on Wednesday, May 6. How will you celebrate?

Lag B’Omer and Marriage Equality

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...
Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue skies and the sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Lag B’Omer, a brief moment of lightness during the intense count of the Omer from Passover to Shavuot.  Tonight there are bonfires, tomorrow tykes will get their first haircuts.

After the vote for the hideous Amendment One in North Carolina this week, I was braced for a glum Lag B’Omer.  I hate feeling like a second-class citizen, and it’s pretty clear that’s exactly what I and other LGBTQ folk are in the Tar Heel State.

Then the news came over the car radio that President Obama had finally spoken in favor of marriage equality.  I honestly never thought I’d see the day when a sitting American President would speak up for us, much less one in the midst of a campaign.  The news made me feel light-headed: I actually pulled off the road and sat for a bit, until I settled down a bit.  I’m happy, and surprised, and grateful.

As for the folks in NC:  I wish I could talk to them.  I wish I could say to the Christians of North Carolina who fought so hard to pass Amendment One, do you remember your forebears?  Many of your spiritual ancestors fled Europe because the lived in places where Baptists, or Methodists, or Catholics were not free to worship as they wished. They came to this country, and eventually set up a government where they carefully separated religion and state.  They understood that that meant that this country would never enshrine their religious beliefs in law, and they wanted it that way.  They did not want to risk ever again being a persecuted minority, nor did they want anyone else in that position for their religious beliefs.

I am a Reform Jew.  Reform Judaism affirms the sacredness of marriage between two individuals regardless of gender.  My sweetheart and I have a ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) on our wall.  We are married in the eyes of God and our congregation and the Reform Movement.  Unfortunately our state and our federal government has chosen not to honor our marriage, because the religious majority in our country holds that homosexuality is a sin.  Reform Judaism is not the only religion that recognizes as sacred the union between two men or two women who vow to be responsible for one another for life:  the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalists, and the Alliance of Baptists also recognize same-sex marriage.

I am beginning to hope that I may see the day when this unfairness is no longer with us, when the intention of the founders of our government is honored.  I hope I will see the day when religion and state are truly separate.  In the meantime, I am glad that President Obama spoke up.

In the meantime, I will celebrate this moment of lightness in a long journey, this Lag B’Omer.