America and Lag B’Omer, What is the Connection?
By Yaffa Abadi
The month of May is a time when Jewish festivities are at a high and two significant celebrations should be in the hearts and minds of the American Jewish community: Jewish American Heritage Month and Lag B’Omer.
In 2010, the month of May was coined Jewish American Heritage Month. This month is dedicated to recognizing and appreciating the 360-year history of Jewish contributions in American culture. Much like the European Jewish Culture Week, this holiday has the potential to demonstrate how much Jews have continuously dedicated themselves to their patriotic duty as Americans while celebrating their unique identity as American Jews.
Within this festive month where modern day Jewish achievements are celebrated, we find a day when the ancient Jewish achievements are also celebrated with joy and light - Lag B’Omer.
Lag B’Omer marks the anniversary of the death of a great Torah scholar, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who brought forth the teachings of mysticism into the world. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai instructed his many students to mark the day of his death as “the day of my joy”; therefore, on this day we celebrate his life and the strong impact he had for Jews everywhere, shining the light of the Torah into the world.
The story goes that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son, at one point in their lives, were forced to hide in a cave for twelve years during which they studied Torah. However upon exiting their cave, they noticed Jews working and engaging in the physical world. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai could not stand seeing Jews who were not engaged in Torah learning but rather in physical matters, so he returned to the cave for another twelve years to better understand the Torah and the world. After these years, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai understood that while Torah should be the center of our lives, it is essential to take part in the world, to work and contribute since this is the best way to bring godliness into the physical world.
This lesson, which needed to be learned by one of the giants in Judaism, is something that American Jewry have already understood for centuries. Looking at the contributions made by Jews over the centuries, whether they be in the world of business, art, medicine, theater and more, American Jewry continues to leave a strong mark and positive influence on their country.
What is fascinating is that not only has the contribution of American Jews within their country been astounding, but it is hard to imagine a time when American Jewry was not also a great contributor to Israel.
For many years American Jewry have been committed to the State of Israel, be it ideologically, financially or physically. On top of the large numbers of American Jews who have uprooted their comfortable lives to start anew in the Jewish homeland, there are those who do an outstanding job mobilizing their community members and teaching them the importance of Israel to the Jewish people.
Organizations such the Israel Forever Foundation, the American Zionist Movement and AIPAC, as well as synagogues and JCCs across the country are only a few examples of the many whose main aim is to imbue an understanding and a love for Israel in the hearts of all Jews throughout the 50 states and beyond.
Looking at the vast range of contributions American Jewry has made to their country, as well as to Israel is something incredible. Their embodiment of the lessons learned by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai--to allow Torah to penetrate the physical world and be an active member of society--are ones they take seriously.
We thank American Jewry and as we look forward to celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month and the Lag B’Omer bonfire light, we too look forward to celebrating the bright light as American Jewry continues to contribute and inspire.
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