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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class- Holidays in Israel Series at HebrewPod101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Israeli holidays and observances. I’m Eric, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 5, Lag Ba'omer or 33rd day of the ‘Omer'.
In Israel, Lag Ba’omer is celebrated to commemorate some events that occurred during the second century of the common era: the Bar Kochva revolt against the Romans or מרד (mered) - in Hebrew, the end of the plague that killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students, and the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, an important rabbi and one of the founding fathers of the Kabbalah.
In this lesson, we'll discuss the holiday when all of Israel is lit up.
Now, before we get into more detail, I've got a question for you-
Many Israeli children participate in a special ceremony on Lag Ba’Omer. What is this ceremony called, and what is done at the ceremony?
If you don't already know, keep listening! The answer will be revealed at the end of this lesson!
The best-known Lag Ba’Omer tradition is lighting bonfires. There are several explanations for this tradition. The first is tied to the Bar Kochba revolt. The rebels, who were led by Bar Kochba, lit a bonfire or in Hebrew מדורה (medura) - on the mountaintops to spread word of the outbreak of the revolt. In memory of these fires, people light bonfires on the holiday. The second explanation concerns Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. We are told that when he passed away, his house was engulfed in flames, and people commemorate this by lighting bonfires.
Israeli children and young adults begin preparing for the bonfires weeks in advance, and they go out together to gather planks of wood, which is קרשים (krashim) in Hebrew. On the night of the holiday, they meet up, light a bonfire, roast potatoes and marshmallows in the fire, and sit around it and play games. Sometimes they even sing songs and play the guitar. The bonfire can often last until sunrise.
Another Lag Ba’Omer custom is also tied to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He was a rabbi who opposed Roman rule of the Land of Israel and was considered to be among the founding fathers of the Kabbalah. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave is in הר מירון (har meron) or Mount Meron, and every year, on Lag Ba’Omer, tens of thousands of people climb the mountain to commemorate the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon’s death in a big celebration called הילולת בר יוחאי (hilulat Bar Yoħai). Participants light bonfires, sing, dance, and read from ספר הזוהר (sefer ha-zohar), the foundational work of the teachings of the Kabbalah.
Lag Ba’Omer is celebrated on the 18th of Iyar, according to the Hebrew calendar. According to certain commentators, this is also the date that the flood or המבול (ha-mabul) began.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question-
What’s the special ceremony that many Israeli children participate in on Lag Ba’Omer? - Many traditional Jews don't cut their children’s hair until they're three years old. When a boy reaches the age of three, he’s taken to Hilulat Bar Yochai, in Mount Meron, and there, he gets his hair cut as part of a festive ceremony known as a חלאקה (Ħalaka).
How was this lesson? Did you learn something interesting? Are there any customs in your culture connected to fire?
Leave a comment letting us know at HebrewPod101.com, and we'll see you in the next lesson!