Lag BaOmer is the 33rd day of the seven-week Omer. (The numerical value of the Hebrew letter lamed is 30, and the value of gimel is three; lamed and gimel together are pronounced “lahg.”) In addition to helping us understand the agricultural cycle, the Omer marks the period from Passover, which commemorates the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, to Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Historically, the period of the Omer is a time of semi-mourning, when weddings, parties and events with music, and haircuts are avoided, in memory of a plague that killed thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, ascholar (c. 50-135 C.E.). Lag BaOmer was the day on which the plague ended, and so became a day of great joy.
There is no formal observance associated with the holiday, but a series of meaningful rituals have evolved over time, including picnics, bonfires, and haircuts.
You can incorporate social action themes into your Lag BaOmer celebration in the following ways.
Donate Your Hair
In some Jewish communities, it is customary to celebrate the first haircut for 3-year-old children (called an upsherin) 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. Other organizations that accept donated hair are Wigs for Kids, Hair We Share and Children With Hair Loss. You might also make a monetary donation to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for childhood cancer research through sponsored head-shaving events.
Make Your Wedding a Hub of Social Justice
Lag BaOmer is also a popular day for spring weddings, especially in Israel. 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 pass it along to a low-income bride.
Protect the Environment in Ways Large and Small
If you choose to have or participate in a picnic, barbeque, or other outdoor fun for Lag BaOmer, there are many ways to acknowledge our responsibility to the environment. You can start small by using reusable plates and utensils and cleaning up thoroughly afterward. There are many resources available for wider education and action, including from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.