By Molly Zatman
For Mitzpeh

Chabad’s Lag Ba’Omer setup included a make your own s’mores station. Photo by Eli Backman.

Lag Ba’Omer programming organized by Chabad and Hillel helped dozens of students celebrate the holiday on Thursday night in a safe and socially distanced way. Chabad hosted a bonfire for students to make s’mores in their front yard, while this university’s JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) couple sponsored a similar event in front of the Hillel building, with s’mores, music, hotdogs and axe throwing.  

Lag Ba’Omer is a Jewish festival commemorating the end of a period of grieving for the thousands of students of prominent Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva who were struck by a plague. The Omer, the time between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot, is 49 days, and Lag Ba’Omer is commemorated on the thirty-third day. On Lag Ba’Omer, when Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped dying, mourning tranforms into a celebration of life and remembrance, filled with festivity and joy. 

According to Rabbi Eli Backman, this university’s Chabad rabbi, Lag Ba’Omer sends an important message to students: “The plague happened because people didn’t know how to respect each other. The message of Lag Ba’Omer is that respect reaches greater heights. When we’re able to respect one another, we’re able to feel the joy and sensitivity of those around us. Students in this day and age get to learn that it’s important to get together and listen to other voices and honor and respect them, even if you disagree.”

Due to coronavirus safety precautions, visits to Chabad were staggered and short, with students only taking their masks off to eat. Chabad hosted the activity entirely in their front yard, to ensure students had enough space to socially distance. The Hillel get-together took similar precautions; the programming was also outdoors and participants were required to follow the university’s guidelines. 

Both events provided an opportunity for students to see their friends in person at the end of a rough year. Ayelet Fried, a freshman letters and sciences student, said the Kedma event was “an outlet for a time when students are very alone and need community.” Fried, who stayed around two hours, said she saw around 40-50 students. “It was really great to just be together with everyone.”

Family science major Abby Elson, who attended the Kedma event, agreed.

“As a freshman, I haven’t had the opportunity to attend so many in-person events, so it was great to go to this bonfire. It really felt like a normal college event,” she said. “And it was a great way to see the Kedma community come together. I got to see so many faces I haven’t been able to see because of COVID and I got to meet a bunch of new people, too.”

With more students getting vaccinated and a larger on-campus presence next year, larger, many students expect in-person Jewish programming to return.

“I think these programs were a surprisingly great look at how Jewish life will look next year on campus,”  said freshman cell biology and genetics major Ray Ash. “It makes me really excited for the upcoming year.”

Fried remarked, “Jewish life is really, really great, and it’s only going to get better.”


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