Lag B'Omer Family Adventure
Subject: Lag B’Omer Family Adventure
Target: Appropriate for All Congregants and Families
Time Frame: One Day (9:30 am – 4:00 pm)
Congregation: Congregation Kol Am
Contributor: Rabbi Holly Levin Cohn
This program creates an understanding of the often neglected Jewish holiday, Lag B’Omer, which falls on the 33rd day of the Omer. The Omer is the period of time we count between Passover and Shavuot. Lag B’Omer commemorates life after the destruction of the Second Temple. Judea had been conquered by the Romans who forbade the study of Torah. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and Rabbi Akiva, two famous rabbis, continued their study of Torah in secret. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai hid in a cave and studied with his son for 12 years. The cave was thought to be near the city of Meron. Many people celebrate the holiday on Mt Meron – the burial place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Legend has it that Rabbi Akiva and his students, would dress up as hunters and go into the woods where they would actually study Torah. On Lag B’Omer we celebrate our freedom to study Torah.
Many generations in the congregation come together and realize that Judaism is all around us even in settings that seem secular.
Families gain an awareness of the history connected with Lag B’Omer.
Families engage in the text study from Pirke Avot. The passages chosen will relate to the study of Torah.
This program is appropriate for all congregants. There is no age restriction and families with children of any age are invited to attend.
Meramac Caverns, Stanton, MO, which are about an hour’s drive from St Louis. Tours of the caves leave every 30 minutes.
The caves were chosen to give us the feeling of what it must have been like for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son to live and study in a cave for 12 years.
For this program, instead of caves, wooded, outdoor nature areas would be fine. This would remind us of Rabbi Akiva and his students who would study Torah, in secret in the woods.
Staff and Specialists
For 40 participants (32 high school age and above) there was one person who led the program, a song leader and an educator.
- Box lunches
- Song sheets
- Handouts with selections from Pirke Avot and guiding questions.
- For groups of 15 or more, it is necessary to book for the Caverns. Call 800.676.6105
- Rent buses
- Order box lunches
- Prepare handouts with passages from Pirke Avot
- Put together a song sheet
- 10:00-11:00 am: Board Buses and drive to the Caves. Give the background to Lag B’Omer. Ask participants to imagine what it must have been like for Shimon Bar Yochai and his son to live in a cave, doing so because they felt passionate about maintaining their study of Torah.
Participants can think about whether they believe in something so passionately that they would do anything to practice that belief.
- 11:00-12:00 pm:
Tour of the Cave
- 12:00-12:20 pm: Bathroom break, get settled
- 12:30-2:30 pm: Motzi, Lunch and discussion of Pirke Avot, Birkat Hamazon
Divide people into groups of about 10. Each generation should be represented in each group. Every group receives one of three different passages from Pirke Avot, a tractate of Mishnah. The passages chosen are related in some way to the study of Torah. Explain that we look for deeper meaning when we study text. Just as the Rabbis took Jewish law recorded in the Mishnah and commented on it with Gemora to create Talmud, we too are going to analyze three passages from Pirke Avot. It may be interesting to show the group a page from the Talmud. Point out that the passage being studied is in the center and the commentaries are written around it. The group discusses their passage for about 20 minutes and then records a summary of the discussion on the handout. All groups then switch handouts. Again for about 20 minutes, groups will discuss the new text and the previous group’s commentary. They record their comments beneath the summary of the group before them. Switch one more time. Discuss the passage. One person from each group presents to all the participants the ideas expressed on the handout.
- 2:30-3:00 pm: Upshirin
The Upshirin is a boy’s (and more recently a girl’s) first haircut at age three. It coincides with the beginning of Torah study, the end of infancy. It is a life cycle event often celebrated in the synagogue. It is most prevalent among Sephardim and Chasidim. On Lag B’Omer the prohibition of cutting hair during the sefirah is lifted. Many Chasidim take their three year old boys to Mt Meron on Lag B’Omer for their first haircuts. It is a custom rather than a law. Friends and family all take a snip of hair to participate. The child is introduced to the letter aleph, touches it and then dips that finger in honey and tastes. The Torah is sweet. Singing follows the cutting ceremony.
This ceremony can be included if there are children of the appropriate age.
- 3:00-4:00 pm: Bus ride home
This would be a good time for singing and an evaluation of the outing.
The major costs to consider for this program are the buses, the cave entrance fee and the lunches. Other costs are for publicity, postage and copying. Depending on the size of the group, you may or may not need to budget for group leaders.
Participants found the program innovative, formative and well executed. They enjoyed the time for study and reflection.
References and Resources
Guiding questions from Pirke Avot