Lag BaOmer was completely off our radar when we lived in the United States. We never had any real exposure to it until we made Aliyah, and now its approach is easily recognizable by kids walking down the street, schlepping huge pieces of wood, old furniture, sticks, and anything else that burns.
Lag BaOmer is a break, a time out, a moment to recall an ancient plague that may or may not have occurred, and perhaps a moment for reflection.
The Hebrew letter equivalent of 33 is pronounced Lag (lamed gimel), giving rise to the name Lag BaOmer for this particular day. There is no one particular reason that this day stands out from the other 48 days counted between Pesach and Shavuot, yet many fascinating traditions surround the special nature of this day.
Driving across the Jezreel Valley these days, you can't miss the biblical echoes of the landscape. On Pesach we are to eat only cereal products made from the last year's harvest, baked with no leavening – and at the same time we are to clean out completely any remnants of any grain products from the old supply.
Jewish communities around the world marked the "new year for the trees" last week with tree planting ceremonies and seders that celebrate Israel's seven species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates if you are keeping track!).
My commute to work every morning is not typical. I drive through the Roaring Fork Valley with majestic, now snow-covered, mountains on my left and my right. The sky is often a clear, bright blue, and the sun glimmers off the powdery snow that shifts in the wind. I am the cantor at the Aspen Jewish Congregation, and I certainly feel blessed to live and work in such a beautiful place. This quote from Isaiah is particularly fitting for this part of the country, as the people here are very in touch with the nature around them - often finding their spiritual center while skiing a run or hiking in the hills.
Tu BiShvat, the birthday of the trees (or the new year of the trees) is a minor Jewish holiday.