9 Ways to Celebrate Lag BaOmer in the Time of Coronavirus

Lag BaOmer, a minor, festive holiday not mentioned in the Torah, falls on the 33rd day of counting the Omer, the 49-day period from the second night of Passover to the day before Shavuot. The Hebrew word lag is a combination of the Hebrew letters lamed, which has a numerical value of 30, and gimel, whose numerical value is three – giving the holiday its name.

Among La BaOmer’s many facets are agricultural aspirations, a release from mourning, celebration of Torah learning, and mindfulness of religious suppression. Here are nine ways to celebrate safely in the time of coronavirus.

1. Have a picnic.

In Israel, Lag BaOmer celebrations traditionally take place outdoors. Get in the holiday spirit by having a (safe and socially responsible) picnic! If you have a porch or backyard where it is safe to do so, eat outside; if not, spread a blanket on the floor and enjoy eating a meal a little bit differently. Check out these Lag BaOmer recipes.

2. Have a backyard bonfire.

Bonfires are a popular way to observe Lag BaOmer, and if you have a backyard space with a fire pit, you can still safely enjoy this custom while quarantined. Now is the perfect time to build and enjoy a small fire with your immediate family or whomever is at home with you right now. 

3. Fire up the grill.

Bonfires are a popular way to mark Lag BaOmer in Israel. In that spirit, why not cook a few of these great barbecue recipes over an open flame or in a grill pan in honor of the holiday?

4. Go “camping” in your living room.

If there isn’t anywhere you can safely be outside, set up a tent in your living room. Use a real outdoor tent or drape a blanket over some chairs and add a sleeping bag or two. Young kids will love this celebration!

5. Work in the garden or plant some indoor plants.

In the Bible, Jews who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Passover brought a measure of barley (the Omer) as an offering on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which occurred during a critical period in the growing season. Therefore, you may wish to spend time on Lag BaOmer working in a garden – whether it’s outdoors or inside.

5. Learn Torah.

You can do some Jewish study of your own in honor of the students of Rabbi Akiba, who are remembered particularly during the Omer. A local congregation may have brought their regular study group online; you can find plenty of online learning materials that are suitable for all ages; or subscribe to Ten Minutes of Torah to receive a daily email that explores the many facets of Jewish life.

6. Try a home haircut.

Many Jews also do not cut their hair during the Omer, but Lag BaOmer is traditionally a time when boys, at the age of 3, recieve their first haircut, with much festivity surrounding the event. With salons closed, read up on how to give your child a haircut yourself. Don't forget to watch some YouTube videos for guidance!

7. Participate in interfaith groups and events.

Religious intolerance was at the root of the laws that prohibited Rabbi Akiba and his students from teaching Torah freely. Promoting interreligious dialogue and understanding is one of the surest ways to prevent it. Seek out an online interfaith event and connect with members of other religious communities. Ongoing personal relationships among faith communities are a powerful force for good in the world.

8. Send love to friends whose weddings have been canceled.

Among those who observe the somber days during the Omer, Lag BaOmer is a day of wedding celebrations. Unfortunately, this time of extreme physical distancing has required many engaged couples to cancel or indefinitely postpone their wedding plans. Now is a good time to send some extra love to your engaged friends, whether by sending a card or gift or letting them know that they're on your mind. 

9. Donate to charity.

Here are three relevant categories of charities to consider:

  • Jewish learning: Rabbi Akiba and his students are remembered particularly because they were forced to study Torah in secret due to laws prohibiting the teaching of Torah. Thankfully today there are many ways to study and share Torah. A donation to support ReformJudaism.org or another Jewish organization focused on learning is one way to help carry on the sacred calling of Rabbi Akiba and his students.
  • Agriculture: In the northern hemisphere, the Omer comes during an intense period in the annual agricultural cycle. It is a time of great hopefulness, but also a time of worry that the coming harvest may not be sufficient. There are many charities that support people across the world whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. Consider donating $33 (because Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer) to one in honor of Lag BaOmer.
  • Health: Traditionally, the Omer is a period of mourning that commemorates the deaths – from plague – of Rabbi Akiba and his students. Amid the global health crisis surrounding coronavirus, a donation to a health-related organization would be both timely and meaningful.

Kelly Hershberg lives in Chicago and enjoys studying Tanach and Talmud in her spare time.