By David Jahng
Students at this university and members of the Jewish community gathered at the MEOR Maryland house Wednesday to take part in a celebration of the Lag B’Omer holiday.
Lag B’Omer occurs on the 33rd day of the Omer, which is 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.
Barbecued hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and drinks were available to attendees, who sat in groups at tables or around a bonfire to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Many who took part in the event were more than satisfied with the food and enjoyed the opportunity to relax before the upcoming weeks of final exams.
“You can’t really get burgers like that at the dining hall,” said Jacob Horden, a sophomore mechanical engineering major. “I know a lot of people here from Birthright, so it’s pretty chill, not a lot of social pressure.”
Jewish pop songs played alongside light conversation ranging from grades that were too low to plans for the upcoming summer.
“We come here every Friday for Shabbat dinner, so we know a lot of people, and it’s fun to come and hang out with all our friends,” said Maddie Reichbart, a sophomore elementary education major.
Reichbart and her friend, Carly Boden, ate toasted and sometimes burnt marshmallows around the bonfire.
“I wanted to come and support the program, and I love free food,” said Boden, a sophomore bioengineering major.
The event attracted members of the MEOR program and newcomers from outside the organization. Many participated in cornhole and pong.
“My favorite part was just talking and losing at water pong, it was just fun to play, not so fun to chug the Sprite afterwards,” said Joy London.
London, a freshman government and politics and communications major, is a member of the Maimonides program. Maimonides is the MEOR flagship program that aims to educate students on Jewish learning about health, happiness, relationships and daily life, said Seth Eisenberg, a MEOR Student Board member. He added that MEOR is not typically seen as a very social organization.
“We wanted to change that perception and have more social events like the barbecue to develop the community and get people to be friends, rather than just coming here for learning,” said Eisenberg, a sophomore chemistry major.
Talya Kravitz, a fellow MEOR Student Board member, said she wanted the event to reach more people, so MEOR partnered with the Jewish Student Union and the Ruach reform group from Hillel to get the word out through Facebook and text messages.
“Our goal is to get as many people as possible together,” said Kravitz, a sophomore architecture major. “On campus now, all the Jewish groups are kind of separate and all do their own thing.”
During Lag B’Omer, men do not shave or get haircuts and Jews cannot listen to music, Kravitz said.
She added that traditionally a bonfire is held for the occasion, and since MEOR held a bonfire event at the beginning of the semester, she thought holding another would be the perfect way to close out the year.
Rabbi Zalman Goldstein, the MEOR education director who cooked for the barbecue, said the holiday is often not recognized in the U.S. but is larger in Israel, as it is part of the culture and more widespread.
“It’s a holiday that celebrates Jewish mysticism,” said Goldstein. “Mysticism is by definition esoteric, so it makes sense that a lot of people are not aware of it.”
Goldstein explained that the holiday marks the death of the rabbi who revealed the hidden mysteries of the Torah.
“It’s nice for those that don’t know the secrets,” he said. “It’s important for people to acknowledge there are deeper things they don’t know about also.”
Aaron Kraiman, another MEOR Student Board member, said he enjoys the opportunity to see the rabbis in a social setting.
“It’s an important date this time of year, a day of celebration after a time of mourning,” said Kraiman, a junior kinesiology major. “And what better way to do that than to have a barbecue and hear music?”