Monday night/Tuesday, May 11-12, marks Lag B’Omer, a “minor holiday” in the Jewish calendar. Lag B’Omer is the 33rd day in the count of days and weeks linking Passover and Shavuot, a period that used to begin with an “omer” (literally, sheaf), a wave offering of a measure of barley, at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Talmud includes reference to events during the Omer period that rendered it a time of mourning, albeit the 33rd day was/is celebratory.
For students across the world, this pandemic has created a seismic shift in their current education. It is becoming increasingly possible that for many, the remainder of the school year will be conducted virtually, with no return to campus. This may mean forgoing most of the usual celebration and ritual associated with the end of the school year, and for graduating students, possibly even missing the chance to walk in a formal graduation ceremony.
Pesach, a holiday of remembering, is followed one week later by Holocaust Remembrance Day and, the next week, by Israel’s Memorial Day. The motif of memory runs deep in Jewish thought and ritual. What is it about remembering that is so compelling?
As my wife and I sat at the seder table last week, we could not but – as, I’m sure, did many others – reflect on seders past. We have, over decades, celebrated many memorable seders. Not unlike our experience this year, the first seder of our marriage was particularly distinctive, owing to global conditions of a different sort. Then, as now, the enduring question of Pesach was and remains: What is our vision of tomorrow?
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One of the great thinkers of late 19th/early 20th century Zionism was Asher Ginsberg (1856-1927), better known by his pen name, Ahad Ha’Am (“one of the nation”). Primarily an essayist who championed the proposition that the movement of return to Zion must begin with a revitalization of Jewish culture, Ahad Ha’Am profoundly influenced such younger Zionists as Chaim Nachman Bialik and Chaim Weizmann. Born in the Ukraine, Ahad Ha’Am relocated to London to serve as agent of the Wissotzky Tea Company and, eventually, settled in Tel Aviv.