Lag BaOmer is the shorthand way of saying the 33rd day of the omer (the time from the second day of Passover to Shavuot). It is celebrated to commemorate the day a plague ended in which thousands of students of Rabbi Akiba, a Talmudic scholar, died during the Counting of the Omer. The period of counting is traditionally observed as a period of mourning. The mourning, however, is set aside on Lag BaOmer, making it a day of special joy and festivity.
Lag BaOmer is not mentioned in the Torah and only hinted at in the Talmud. Consequently, there is no formal ritual, but rather a series of customs that the people found attractive and meaningful. In the Israeli traditional community, it has become a day when three-year-old children get their first haircuts. Parties and picnics abound, and at least in Israel, hundreds of people attend midnight bonfires and many children carry little bows and arrows.
You can incorporate social action themes into your Lag BaOmer celebration in the following ways.
Donate Your Hair
In Israel, the first haircut of 3-year-old children (upsherin) is celebrated on Lag BaOmer. With this in mind, you may wish to encourage friends and family to make a donation – or make one yourself – to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in North America who suffer from long-term medical hair loss resulting from any diagnosis, such as cancer or alopecia. Locks of Love uses donated hair to create high quality hair prosthetics that help restore children’s self-esteem and confidence, enabling them to face the world and their peers.
Make Your Wedding a Hub of Social Justice
In Israel, many weddings traditionally take place on Lag BaOmer. If you are planning a wedding during this time, consider ways to incorporate social action themes into your celebration. Ask guests to make a charitable donation in your honor rather than presenting you and your soon-to-be spouse with tangible gifts or money, or donate your wedding dress to an organization that will give it to a low-income bride.
Speak Up for Marriage Equality
For many Jews, it is a hardship to not be able to celebrate weddings during the period of the Omer, which is a solemn time. In contrast, Lag BaOmer is a day of joyful release, when voices of brides and grooms burst forth across the Jewish world. Yet in the United States, gay and lesbian couples are unable to join in this joy because they are denied the right to marry under federal law. This Lag BaOmer, raise your voice and advocate that same-sex couples’ love deserves equality under the law. Write letters to your national, state, and local representatives urging them to support legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S.