On Lag Ba’Omer/motzei Shabbos Maayon Yisroel threw their first outdoor Lag Ba’Omer event. While this is the fifth year that Maayon Yisroel has put on a Lag Ba’Omer event, in previous years it was held at the center. “We didn’t know if anyone was going to come, because it’s a little out of the neighborhood; not in La Brea or Pico but in between,” says Rabbi Wolf, Rabbi and Program Director at Maayon Yisroel. He shouldn’t have worried.
While in the past the event has drawn between 150 and 250 people, this year around 500 people participated. The inspiration for this event goes back many years. “I always had a very strong connection to Lag Ba’Omer, even as a young child,” explains Rabbi Wolf. “As a kid, I would go to a shul in Borough Park, where the Lag Ba’Omer celebration was very special. I would wait for it all year long. As I got older I understood that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai taught the soul of the Torah, and I was always drawn to that part of the Torah. He shows that even if sometimes as Jews, we feel a little disconnected, that is only in our external lives, not in our internal essence. That’s where people identify with Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. Half a million people, from all across the spectrum, come to celebrate his yartzheit – more than any other tzaddik. He’s like a magnet, pulling Jews from all over.”
With this strong personal connection to the holiday, one of the first things that Rabbi Wolf investigated after opening Maayon Yisroel was other city events for Lag Ba’Omer. While there were many celebrations to choose from, he didn’t connect strongly to these. “I didn’t feel the fire of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. So I always wanted to create something in Los Angeles that would give that neshama feeling.” He found that feeling in this year’s event.
From 9:30pm to 12:30am the Western Kosher parking lot was filled with food, music, and dancing. Visitors represented a wide cross-section of the Los Angeles communities. There was also a food truck that, thanks to a donor, gave away 200 free meals. There were popcorn and icees and plenty of entertainment. A live band provided the perfect music for dancing, which included torch dancing and a video feed to Meron, which was projected on a large screen. “It captivated,” says Rabbi Wolf. “The dancing was seamless from the roads of Israel to the streets of Los Angeles. It was a moment of not only real spirited dancing, but of achdus.”
While this was Maayon Yisroel’s first outdoor event, it won’t be the last. They are hoping to add more fire, more people, and more spirited celebrations in the coming years.