The Joyous Holiday of Lag BaOmer

This year, on May 12, Jews will be celebrating the joyous holiday of Lag BaOmer.

typewrite with lag baomer typed out
Photo by Marco Verch (trendingtopics). CC BY 2.0.

What is Lag BaOmer?

Gematria, or Jewish numerology, is related to the philosophy of number and mathematics. ‘Lag’ stands for the Hebrew letters lamed — numerical value of 30 — and gimel — numerical value of 3 — with a sum of 33; this marks the 33 days of the Counting of the Omer in the Hebrew calendar. The Omer was a religious rite observed in the Temple on the second night of Passover.

There are some similarities between Lag BaOmer (sometimes spelled Lag B’omer) and the current quarantine and social distancing necessitated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Rabbi Akiba and the Plague

The 33rd day after the beginning of Passover is celebrated as Lag BaOmer, because it was on that day that the deaths of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples ceased.

According to the Talmud, in the 2nd century CE, there was a plague that killed 40,000 disciples of the great Jewish mystic, Rabbi Akiba. The Talmud shares that this plague is a punishment for their not showing proper Jewish ethical respect, or derekh eretz (proper behavior and manners), towards each other, and for their lack of manifest proper ahavas yisrael (love of Israel) and love of all creatures (kavod ha-briut). Because of this tragic event, the weeks between Passover and Shavuot are observed as a mourning period, not only for the ethical failings of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples in the interhuman (bain adam li havaro/das zwischenmentshliche) and their lack of care and loving kindness (hesed) for each other, but also the destruction of the Temple that Rabbi Akiba merited to have witnessed. Significantly, it was on Lag BaOmer that Rabbi Akiba’s disciples ceased dying from the plague.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

Rabbi Akiba had five disciples who actually survived the plague. One of them, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, also known as the Rashbi, was a great Jewish mystic who eventually went into a kind of quarantine by hiding in a cave to escape persecution by the Romans. In the cave, he lived ascetically, eating only carob, with his son to whom he transmitted esoteric mystical teachings of Kabbalah. It was on Lag BaOmer that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai felt that it was safe to leave the cave after many years; many years later, the Rashbi would pass away on Lag BaOmer, making that day his yahrtzeit, or anniversary of his death, a day of commemoration in Judaism. Thus, Lag BaOmer is considered a day of Kabbalistic significance in the Jewish calendar.

rashbi's cave
The site some identify as the Rashbi’s cave. Photo by Deror_avi.  CC-BY-SA 4.0

Beyond “Business as Usual”

Perhaps the being stuck at home now will spark us to devote more time to the quest for intellectual, spiritual, and moral virtue, rather than assuming a “business as usual” attitude.

Jacob Richman has organized links related to Lag BaOmer that you can explore from home this year, and the Chabad website offer a simple, introductory article on Lag BaOmer. As the power of music in the Jewish arts testifies, song epitomizes the transcendence of the spiritual over the physical, so I hope you may enjoy some music associated with Lag BaOmer, too.

This year, Lag BaOmer falls on May 12, which is coincidentally close to May 15, the target date to begin to lift some of the stay-at-home measures in New York. May we hope that, with the approach of Lag BaOmer, the tide of the novel coronavirus begins to turn.

This article was contributed by David B. Levy, Chief Librarian at the Lander College for Women

The New Meaning of “Shelter in Place”

For the first time in the history of Chicago Animal Care and Control, the shelter has run out of dogs to adopt — and Chicago is not the only place in the United States seeing an uptick in animal adoptions and fostering since the coronavirus outbreak began.

In New York City and Los Angeles, the ASPCA says its applications for dogs and cats are up 200%. Nationwide, the statistics are even more promising. Petpoint, a software program that monitors 1,200 animal shelters across the country, found that adoptions are up 700% this year compared to 2019. Why the increase in pet adoptions and fostering since the coronavirus outbreak? It seems that sheltering in place, social media appeals, and the need for companionship are all driving this trend.

a cat and a dog cuddling outside
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

With stay-at-home orders in place across the country, many animal shelters are suspending operations. The temporary closure of shelters is leaving many animals vulnerable to not receiving adequate care. Furthermore, adoption events that usually bring in potential pet parents are being cancelled or postponed due to social distancing guidelines. The situation has caused shelter workers and volunteers to reach out on social media over the past month to ask the public for help by adopting shelter animals. If people are unable to adopt, shelters are asking them to foster animals temporarily until the shelters can reopen in the future.

In addition to being a platform for shelters to appeal directly to the public for help, social media has also been used to form virtual adoption communities and host online events. Since many live adoption events have been cancelled, some shelters are using Facebook Live to showcase adoptable pets online to people across the country. This method has given animals more exposure to a larger audience than traditional live events, which, in turn, is bringing in more potential adopters. Social media has also allowed rescue organizations across the country to work together in order to bring animals from one region to another. This has been very helpful since some areas of the country have a surplus of animals and others have a surplus of interested adopters and foster applicants. 

young kittens in a cat bed
Image by Helga Kattinger from Pixabay

Americans are responding to these social media activities in droves. The response seems to have grown out of both a sense of compassion toward the animals in need and a desire that many Americans have to help out others in a time of crisis to “try and do their part.” This response is also likely the result of the companionship that pets can provide in this anxious time. Taking care of pets provides consistency and routine for people who are not used to living under these new restrictions. In a time of social distancing, pets give people a sense of comfort and connection. They are giving people activities to engage in, too, whether that is going outside to walk the dog — while practicing social distancing — or having online meetings with other pet owners. The benefits to both humans and animals has been great and is something to cherish during this stressful time.

This post was contributed by Annette Carr, Librarian at the School of Health Sciences at Bay Shore

References

Beck, M., & McFetridge, S. (2020). Coronavirus in US: Pet fostering takes off as COVID-19 keeps Americans home. Retrieved from https://abc7ny.com/6077028/

Chicago animal care and control runs out of adoptable dogs for 1st time ever. (2020). Retrieved from https://abc7chicago.com/6082614/

Fies, A. (2020). People and pets help each other through coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/Health/people-pets-coronavirus-pandemic/story?id=69949246

Jeunesse, W. L. (2020). Pet adoptions, fostering spike amid coronavirus restrictions. Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/us/pet-adoptions-and-fostering-spike-during-coronavirus