The Day the Pope Stole Lag b'Omer


18th Iyar 5769
33rd day of the Omer
May 12, 2008

Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday afternoon I left the Old City at one to meet David for the a slice of what I think is absolutely the world’s best pizza at Big Apple on Jaffa Road before running a few errands. This left me plenty of time to get to ulpan by four. Or so I thought.

By 3:30 I was walking up Keren haYesod when the city suddenly came to a standstill. Giant empty tour buses parked sideways across the main streets to block traffic. A barricade manned by half a dozen police officers stopped me and a dozen pedestrians in front of the King’s Hotel. Some of us siphoned off to side streets. I joined scores of others and tried a back way to my destination but the end of every street single street I tried was blocked and when I tried to backtrack, they had sealed those streets too.

I was late, lost, hot and thirsty in Rehavia and had no where to go. But it was worse for others who could not leave their homes for miles and parents who could not get home to their families for hours. Police manned barriers at hundreds of intersections and tiny cross streets all around the center of town. An alive Jerusalem of the early afternoon, in just a few moments transformed into a ghost town, not a civilian in sight.

Police and soldiers stood every 20 meters in the sunshine. Cafes emptied. Helicopters hovered, their oppressive guttural “whop-whop-whop” obliterating the sounds of daily life. Sirens asserted loud whines. Sounds like a siege, doesn’t it? It certainly felt like it, too.

Today is Lag b’Omer; it’s supposed to be one very happy day-of song in the golden air, of holiday of picnics, weddings and joyful prayer. But we in Yerushalyim will be under siege again. Buses to Meron will be shy of passengers who cannot get to the terminals. Guests will miss attending the wedding of friends and family, disappointing many a chosson and kallah on their happiest day. Thousands of Jerusalem residents will not be able leave their homes with the simple comfort that they will be able to return at an appointed time. Children will be stuck at school, planes will be missed, G-d forbid everyday emergency care could be hindered.

This morning Jews cannot even go to our holiest site, as the Kotel is shut down for the visit of “his holiness” and we cannot even get a glimpse because every visual access is blocked too. All those people trying to have the segula (“treasure” that brings a salvation) to pray 40 consecutive days at the Kotel may have to begin again. Regular minyanim and tehillim groups will be disrupted, too. I just spoke with a woman who said she waited 30 years to pray at the Kotel today. Rabbi Gold said that in 28 years he has never seen this kind of clamp on our freedom.

What would it be if we Jews could have a religious figure (l’havdil) that we so universally respect. Maybe this is why Hashem is allowing the Pope to steal Lag B’Omer.

My friend Feigel pointed out that today is the day we remember Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who was forbidden to teach Torah-- by whom? Rome. Who sentenced him to death? Rome. How did most of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 talmidim die? In the rebellion against Rome. Who tortured and killed Rabbi Akiva? Rome.

Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yocahi made no secret of their abhorrence for the Roman occupation of Eretz Yisrael and put themselves in grave danger by their refusal to buckle to the demands of the world power at the time. Today in 2009, Rome has taken over Jerusalem. Frightening.

If only we also could learn to say “No” to Rome, its influence, its immorality, its selfishness and say “Yes” to Torah. “No” to their demand to take our Land. “Yes” to our people’s desire to live in peace on our Land.

When the Jewish world united around one leader and Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 scholar-warriors. Rome was threatened. We held Jerusalem in our hands, it looked like Bar Kochba was bringing the final geula. But we erred in our mission and the result was devastating beyond belief. Neither we nor Rome have recovered.

Rabbi Akiva lost his students because they did not observe the mitzvah of “loving your neighbor like yourself “to the highest of their capability. Rabbi Akiva stated this was a major tenet in the Torah because without unity, we cannot learn or disseminate its truth, let alone live it.

Even though we have the first fighting force in 2000 years to protect us-our leadership does not know their Torah. Even though the West, with its roots in the ancient Roman empire, are today’s world leaders-our growing physical strength threatens them. They tighten the clamp and we have no backbone of Torah to resist.

Like everything Jewish, there is another extreme. In the darkness of those times there was a spark of hope. One of the Rabbi’s students, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai not only survived, but revealed a great light of the future redemption hidden in the Zohar. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai teaches us that there is always, always hope.

The day of Lag B’Omer is just beginning for you. So many of us in Yerushalyim cannot get out and be among our people in the same way you can today. So, please do it for us. Love each other, play with each other and learn with each other. Give tzedeka. Eat and dance and pray. Together.

May we soon celebrate our release from the suffocating clamp of Rome -and from our own limitations -which hide our greatness.

Come Home Soon-
Light a fire.
Renee & David


Ilana said...

Thank you for a very inspiring message.

linda said...

What a way to start the day