Counting Days in 2020 – Lag B’Omer 5780

Counting Days in 2020 – Lag B’Omer 5780

What have you been counting lately? Days? Weeks? Months?

A half a million Israeli children went back to gan, nursery school, this morning. Parents have been counting the days for these youngsters who were home to return to their organized classrooms with warm and welcoming, smiling teachers. More than the usual apprehension was behind this “first day” of school – for the second first day of school this year – for their little ones. This new round of “first-day” photos filled Whatsapp groups and Facebook pages.

Children from grades 1-3 went back to school last week.  Also, those students in grades 11-12 who have been counting the days until the end of the year or end of school exams.

Screen shot from video of Eli Varenberg to get into shuk first day repopened

Hundreds counted the days for the Machane Yehudah Market, shuk, to reopen. Long lines of customers appeared wanting to enter on the first day, Thursday, May 7th, as seen in a video taken by tour guide Eli V.

Transportation, parks, museums are opening, including the Jerusalem Aquarium. 

Near Israeli Knesset buses lined up on road outside

I lost count long ago of the number and reasons for recent protests. Buses lined the road to the Knesset this past week for one.

Counting the days of the week until Shabbat is the old normal.

Jews have been counting the days from Pesach until Shavuot for centuries.  During the 49 day time period, the 33rd day or Lag B’Omer has been a day of celebration. In Israel, huge bonfires have been the norm, with children starting before Pesach to gather wood of all types to burn on that night.

This year Lag B’Omer, starting May 11 at night, is to be very different.

From Thursday, May 7, 2020, until Wednesday, May 13, 2020, lighting fires are prohibited throughout the country.

bonfire on lag b'Omer

Lighting bonfires and being present near bonfires will be prohibited, except for the bonfires on Mt. Meron according to special directives. The huge fires in Jerusalem parks and open spaces as in the past are not to be this year.

Jerusalem for Lag B’Omer usually is not the place to be.

However, Meron is where tens of thousands of people converge.

Blue dome at Meron in day light

Last year I shared photos of Meron without crowds.

For the upcoming holiday of Lag B”Omer, 3 bonfires are to be lit on Mount Meron. One for Ashkenazi Jews, one for Sephardi Jews and one for the Religious-Zionist community, with no more than 50 people at each.
Rabbi Haim Drukman will lead the bonfire of the Religious-Zionist community, the bonfire for Ashkenazi Jews is meant to be lit by head of the Boyan Hassidic dynasty Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer and the bonfire for Sephardi Jews is to be lit by Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar.
From Thursday, May 14, 2020, until 6:00 am on Sunday, May  17, 2020, entry to – and presence in – the immediate area of the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the community of Meron shall be prohibited, including the renting of bed-and-breakfasts and guestrooms in this area to anyone who does not reside there, as stated in the official government memo.
Meron women praying
 But note near the end of official notice – the Religious Services Minister shall give equal representation to various communities, including fair representation for women.
I did not take the opportunity to go last year, certainly not this year.
Lag BOmer Chabad Rechavia ad from your porch
In Jerusalem, Chabad Rechavia has come up with an alternative to its annual parade through the streets. A limousine parade to be viewed from home.
Chabad Lag B'Omer parade in Jerusalem at Mamilla Mall
And a virtual drumming event, instead of the real deal from past Lag B’Omer celebrations. Chabad Talbiya also has a stay at home and see the parade event planned.
Around the world, we are seeing events, summer fairs, and international conferences begin cancelled because of the current coronavirus pandemic.
The Jerusalem Writers Festival at Mishkanot Shaananim is moving online starting May 13th.
The Jerusalem Film Festival is also to go online at the end of the month with other international film festivals.
Israeli soccer is to return on May 30, the date that El Al flights are also set to resume.
Meanwhile, instead of running around, I will keep on Zooming from meeting to meeting.
Screen shot of a Dr Suess Zoom slide
Stay well out there.
Old City lions painted with wash your hands during COVID19
Photo Credit: Joshua Wander
And as my friends, the lions in the Old City, now remind visitors – wash your hands.
Lag B’Omer and Meron

Lag B’Omer and Meron

In Jerusalem, Israel, there were people of all ages, who in spite of the heat wave made their medurot, bonfires, on Lag B’Omer.

On Lag B’Omer smoke and fire are a tradition.

bonfire on lag b'Omer

Remember this RJS photo? Medurot are not little fires to roast marshmallows or cook potatoes in the coals. Many are crafted with all types of wood collected and saved for months.

Lag B'Omer bon fire in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem for Lag B’Omer  five years ago, I saw this controlled fire raging. This year there was no authorized huge fire in the area. Fewer individual bonfires as in the past could be spotted. Perhaps the 500 shekel fine controlled them or the official warnings?

But for Lag B’Omer, Jerusalem, Israel, is not the place to be for serious celebrants.

There are those who go year after year to Meron for Lag B’Omer.

Meron trip in July

Estimates vary, it is hard to count, as tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, converge into the mountain location, from all over Israel to these simple roads.

In preparation for Lag B’Omer, I took photos of what Meron looked like on a normal day, without a million people crushing together in the dark around a huge medura.

Building site in Meron

‘Nah Nachman MaUman’ was graffiti written on the wall of future visitor center.

Art seller in Meron

A vendor was selling portraits from a trailer.

Tourist gift shop in Meron

Souvenirs were available for tourists. It was a regular hot summer day. People come to Meron to visit or pray not just on Lag B’Omer. 

Entrances for men and women in Meron

There are separate entrances for men and women.

A large sign warns in bold Hebrew letters to “dress modestly.”

July day at Meron

There is more than one sign concerning dress code. I did not notice any no smoking signs.

Women at Meron

Inside, the tomb of Rabbi Eliezer Ben Shimon Bar Yochai, or Rashbi.

Meron women praying

On this quiet summer afternoon, a few women were deeply into their prayers.

Meron chair outside in sun

Outside, was this special chair. Many three year-old boys come to Meron for their first haircut. Especially on Lag B’Omer day, this would be one busy item for those traditional first snips of fine baby hair.

Meron synagogue inside

There was one small room, the study hall named in memory of Asher. It could provide some relief on a hot day for that hair cut.

Blue dome at Meron in day light

This blue dome over the tomb was easy to photograph in the sunshine. Now imagine it with hundreds of men crowded in it at midnight.

Lighting candles in Meron

This is a sign pointing to a room designated for lighting memorial candles.

People having lunch in Meron in summer

On a regular summer day, you can sit and eat on a covered outdoor patio. The view of the mountain range is spectacular.

Meron new tourist center

This was a sign announcing a project to build a guest center for study of Torah, in honor of Rashbi. 

But on Lag B’Omer night, Meron has medurot at its center. With singing and dancing, well into the early hours. Participants often arrive back home in time for dawn’s light. Hours are spent getting to Meron and then more hours are spent trying to return home.

Meron birds in tree above

I noticed the birds above watching over us that day. In the smoke and confusing of Lag B’Omer night, they would hide away in safety.

As I did this year, I was home with windows shut to keep out the smoke and heat.

Maybe one day I will finally get to Meron for Lag B’Omer.

Meanwhile, this video came up a on search for Rashbi.

Kinneret as seen from bus leaving Meron

A view of the Kinneret, Sea of Galilee, is always worth the trip up the mountain to Meron.

It amazes each year how there are not more serious injuries with the heat, fire, and crowds.

Another Israel miracle?

The Minimalist Guide to Jerusalem Between Passover and Lag B’Omer

The Minimalist Guide to Jerusalem Between Passover and Lag B’Omer

Oh, Jerusalem!

Does anyone else remember the good old days back in America?

The quiet time between Passover and Lag B’Omer. There were no weddings. Live musical performances were taboo. Parties were rare. Then starting on Lag B’Omer celebrations would begin again.

Not so in here in Jerusalem. There is no down time!

Jerusalem synagogue with Israeli flags in front

Flags, flags, more flags. In Jerusalem it is a season of flags and flowers and celebrations.

Eurovision was held in Tel Aviv, getting much media attention.

Stand with Us banner on tower on Ayalon Highway for Eurovivion visitors.

Driving through Tel Aviv on the Ayalon Highway, the only sign of Eurovision I saw was this huge banner from StandWithUs offering tourists a trip to see to see coexistence.

Head riders in GFNY

On the Jerusalem streets, GFNY, the cycling race where amateurs can ride with the pros, streets were closed on the first Friday morning in May.

GFNY riders cycling past the Knesset

Going past the Knesset the lead cyclists were going too fast to get a clear image.

Close to 900 riders took part in the race, which included three routes of various lengths.

Sign on Gaza Street for riders in GFNY

One warning sign was still left on Azza Street this week. I often say Jerusalem streets all go up!

At least on a bike, one has to slow down.

Happenings on Jerusalem streets seem to never slow down.

Sport Week in Israel is from May 17 – 24. On May 17th, there was another Jerusalem cycling event. But for that amateur race fewer streets were closed.

Also, there was the International Writers Festival and Jerusalem Book Forum, from May 12-16, for the less athletic types.  Authors and publishers came to Jerusalem from thirty countries, and the program included live music, panels discussions, and lectures in varied venues.

Jerusalem Prize winner Joyce Carol Oates

At the opening at the YMCA, Joyce Carol Oates received the Jerusalem Prize from Mayor Moshe Lion. In her acceptance remarks, Oates spoke about her grandmother who gave her an early love of books and writing.

one day conference held at Hanson house

The Hansen House hosted a Conference on Design.

It’s hard to keep track. So many different events and signs are posted.

US Embassy in Jerusalem one year sign by FoZ

The Prime Minister’s office announced that the PM was to mark one-year of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel.

I was on my way to the David Citadel Hotel for the event, when I noticed this sign.

Bus praising Trump by Friends of Zion Museum

In front to the hotel was a bus with “Thank you, President Trump, Thank You, America” boldly posted on the side.

David Friedman US Ambassador to Israel

It turned out to be an event with US Ambassador David Friedman.

Rabbi David Lau speaking about his family in Poland

On the stage Chief Rabbi David Lau spoke about mezuzahs.

A mezuzah was completed on stage with the Prime Minister and the US Ambassador.

Jerusalem US Embassy celebrated

A special silver case for the mezuzah was presented by the Friends of Zion to the US Ambassador for use on the new official US Residence in Jerusalem.

Sign on US Embassy in Jerusalem Israel

At the end of the program, a copy of the new Embassy sign was displayed on stage.

MK Tzipi Hotovely and Tammy Friedman were kind enough to pose with it for a photo.

That night included impassioned speeches, dignitaries, good food, and wine.

Night in front of US Embassy on May 14

But I think my favorite scene was on the way home. This pile of empty boxes was left on the street. Outside the former US Consulate, now the US Embassy Building, it looked like moving day.

Across Agron Street in Gan Haatzmaut, Independence Park, was a large sign saying, “Happy Independence Day.”

Israeli flags were on light poles, decorated this month with Ramadan holiday lights.

In this time from Passover to Lag B’Omer, we have had no shortage of celebrations.

The Jerusalem Bird Observatory celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Roof of Jerusalem Bird Sanctuary in spring

On the day of the Jerusalem Marathon, its green roof was really green.

The rain was a blessing. There was more than usual this year.

Jerusalem Park dry grass

But now open areas are dry. A severe heat wave is on the way.

While the main Lag B’Omer celebration is in Meron,  young people in Jerusalem have been saving and storing wood for large holiday bonfires.

Chabad sign for Lag B'Omer march and celebration in Jerusalem

Signs are up. Parades. Parties. Carnivals. Music. Lag B’Omer ready.

The usual large bonfires are banned and fires must be more controlled this year.

Museums are free on May 23, Lag B’Omer.

US Embassy sign on Agron Street building on May 14, 2019

Welcome to Jerusalem Friedman family.

Hope you enjoy your new residence.

But be advised to keep your windows closed on  Lag B’Omer.

Always so much happening on the Jerusalem streets.

There was more, but as this is getting way too long, saving some special happenings for next time.

Here we go again, Happy Lag B’Omer!