The 49 days of the Omer contain all of the modern Israeli days of commemoration – Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day for our fallen soldiers, Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. The one traditional holiday is Lag B’Omer – the 33rd day of the Omer – which we celebrated last week. While a minor holiday, it is an official holiday in Israel and a day off from school.
This year, on Lag B’Omer, the Israel Reform Movement offered Halleu
- a day to celebrate musical creativity. We gathered at Yozma – our congregation in Modiin. Musical enthusiasts from all over the country came to share, to teach and to learn the liturgical innovations going on in our various communities. I was especially moved by how many of our prayer leaders are second generation Reform Jews. The grownup children of our movement’s founders and lots of young adults who grew up in our congregations are leading the way. The influences are varied – from Debbie Friedman to the Piyyut (liturgical poems) of Sephardi Jews. There were congregational choirs, cantorial soloists and chanting. The joy was contagious. Everyone had their mobile phones out to record the tunes so they can be shared.
I was reminded of a Rabbinic story (Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah 4.20) about King Hezekiah. He fought off an invasion from the Assyrian king Sancherib. Hezekiah was revered by the Rabbis because they approved of his religious reforms. He established schools for Torah study. It was so successful that the Talmud claims there was not an illiterate man, woman or child “from Dan to Beersheba” (Sanhedrin 94b). The Rabbis imagine that Isaiah the prophet encouraged Hezikiah to sing a song thanking God for his military victory. He refused saying that all the Torah that he brought to Israel was enough. The Rabbis teach “If Hezikiah had combined song with his Torah he would have been declared the Messiah!”. The world would have been redeemed.
The combination of Torah and song have the power to be redemptive and transformative. One without the other is not enough. It was a joy and a privilege to see the rabbinic ideal fulfilled this Lag B’Omer.
Unfortunately, while we were inside the beautiful synagogue in Modi'in, feeling the exaltation of Torah and song, a forest fire broke out in the surrounding area, causing the nearby Moshav of Mevo Modi’im to burn to the ground. We pray that the residents of the community who lost their homes to the fire will find solace and will soon return to their daily lives.
Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman