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The Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer

Today is the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer. If you live near Jewish communities, you might have seen bonfires, parades and hear lots of music. We are celebrating the Jahrzeit (anniversary of death) of the biblical sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the holy book of Jewish mysticism, the Kabalah. His grave is situated in the Northern Israeli town of Meron and today is the day that Jewish people from all over the world and all over Israel come and pray by his grave and celebrate his life. His life was one of happiness and he wanted the day of his remembrance to be one of happiness too. So around the world bonfires are being lit, lots of dancing and every Jewish town has a parade for the children with music.

Lag baomer  Parade in our town.

The highlight of this day is being in Meron. I will try to recreate my experience when I visited whilst I was living in Israel.

The best time to go is in the evening so you will not stand in the boiling sun for hours. So that’s when I went.  When I arrived by public transportation, I still had a hill to climb. This hill is a spectacle in itself as there are all kinds of people trying to peddle their wares, all in the name of charity of course! I declined all of them as I just wanted to get to the top. As I approached the end of the hill, I heard the strains of music playing. I’m getting nearer to the action and I was already getting emotional. The atmosphere there cannot be described but I will try. Thousands of people are dancing together to live music, all differences put aside, brother near brother, one nation. You can feel the holiness in the air. This day is also an auspicious time for childless couples to pray for a salvation by his grave. This was also one of the reasons I came as I was still childless and wanted to come pray here. I watch the spirited dancing, enthralled by the beauty and the unity.

(all kinds of Jews dancing together)

I could stare for hours at the scene, singing along with the infectious music. But I needed to get near the grave to pray. As I made my way through the throngs of people, the atmosphere gets heavier, more serious. When I entered the room where the actual grave is located, it’s like you entered a different world. People are there to pray for salvations, mostly for children but also for any other misfortune they have. People are sobbing, praying their hearts out and asking the sage to intervene on their behalf to G-d. (In our culture, it’s customary to pray for salvation by graves of our sages and beseeching the Sage to intervene as they are close to G-d)

One of the Segulos  (propitious practice) that people do is to promise to name their child after the Sage if they are blessed with a child within a year. So I was standing there, tears streaming from my eyes, praying for a long awaited child and promising to name him after the Sage, if only it will happen that year still. I was scheduled to have my first IVF in July. After I finished praying, I had a good feeling. I felt optimistic and hopeful.

I left the grave and made my way through the masses to watch some more dancing. It was already in the middle of the night but the dancing and live music goes on for 24 hours straight. The experience of being there is surreal. The time has come to go back, even though I could have stayed for another few hours. So very reluctantly I made my way back to the entrance and down the hill and onto the bus that will take me back to Jerusalem. Since then, I have gone back a few more times and it’s the same special experience. As I moved away from Israel, I now participate from afar, watching the live streams.

My feelings of ecstasy and delight and intense emotion are hard to describe when I found out that my IVF attempt in July resulted in a pregnancy. Next year’s Lag BaOmer found my husband in Meron, expressing his gratitude for our miracle. After we decided to try for child #2, I went to pray there again and by next Lag BaOmer I was 6 months pregnant with my miracle daughter. This year I prayed from home. We will be embarking on the next round of infertility treatments soon for child #3. I hope from the bottom of my heart to be able to experience another miracle by next Lag BaOmer. I definitely don’t underestimate the power of prayer. My 2 precious children are a result of that prayer (with the help of science!)

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My Jewish sabbath

It’s Friday morning. My favorite day of the week is coming soon. Friday afternoon is hectic,with all the last minute preparations going on. Food warmed up? Check. Kids all showered and washed their hair? Check. Table set for Friday night dinner? Check. Candles prepared? Check.

shabbat table

The time for lighting the Sabbath candles is approaching. As I light the candles, peace descends upon the house like a sweet, soft blanket. All mundane matters are put aside for 24 hours. Electronics and gadgets are put away, not to be seen until Saturday night after sundown. It’s my time to focus on the things that really matter, like family, without the distraction of cell phones, computers or tablets. When my daughter talks to me, I actually listen with attention.

After candle lighting, I take the time to sit on the couch with my daughter and we talk about what she learned in school that week. And when she shows me her artwork I actually look at it and not pretend to like it so I could get back to my screen. I treasure that time with her. Not much later the men come home and we eat the one and only dinner together as a family with no distractions. It’s beautiful. The men sing and the food is delicious. It’s time to find out what the kids are thinking and feeling. There are no phones ringing, no social media to escape to, just being in the moment with the people you love.

After the meal, I actually have time to read real magazines, not virtual ones. I love the feel of paper but sadly, the lure of the virtual world takes me away from the pleasure of old fashioned reading.

The next day is more of the same. I can sleep in a little, then we join my family for the next meal. We sit together instead of chatting on Whatsapp. My children get to spend time with the grandparents and can update them about their week.

The afternoon is spend napping and looking at old family albums and just being together. This bonding time keeps us strong from week to week. As sundown approaches, I get a little sad. I love my sabbath. I know I’m way too addicted to technology and I’m sure my children suffer as a result. But I await my little peace of weekly heaven and know that this is what keeps the fabric of our family life together. I would not give this up for the world. I’m not sure I would be able to do this voluntarily if my religion  didn’t (demand) it because of my strong dependence on electronics but since I got this gift of the day of rest, I see the beauty in it and wish for everyone to experience this just once. The disconnect is actually a way of connecting to the real thing. It’s priceless and I’m grateful for it.