Lag Ba'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer Count – this year, May 2, 2010 – is a festive day on the Jewish calendar, celebrated with outings (on which the children traditionally play with bow and arrows), bonfires, and other joyous events. Many visit the resting place (in Meron in Northern Israel) of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose yahrtzeit (anniversary of his passing) the day marks.It has been customary in the last100 years to burn in effigy those people who are considered enemies to the Jewish people and Jewish nation. Such effigies in the past include Yassar Arafat, Adolph Hitler, Joeseph Stalin, and Saddam Hussein. This year both effigies and pictures of Barack Hussein Obama are being burnt.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the 2nd century of the Common Era, was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the "Kabbalah," and is the author of the basic work of Kabbalah, the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as "the day of my joy."
Lag Ba'Omer also commemorates another joyous event. The Talmud relates that in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot a plague raged amongst the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva "because they did not act respectfully towards each other"; these weeks are therefore observed as a period of mourning, with various joyous activities proscribed by law and custom. On Lag Ba'Omer the dying ceased. Thus Lag Ba'Omer also carries the theme of Ahavat Yisrael, the imperative to love and respect one's fellow.
The age-old traditions of this day include lighting large bonfires at night – symbolizing the passion and light that Rabbi Shimon brought into the world with his mystical teachings – and taking children on outings to the fields and forests. More recently, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, encouraged all Jews to hit the streets too, with large-scale Lag Ba'Omer parades, exuberant displays of Jewish unity and pride.
Children especially love to march in the streets, sometimes in uniform, holding banners, or singing. They are learning the value of publicly affirming our faith—and unbeknownst to them, warming the hearts of passersby with their guileless display of living and committed Judaism.