Dr. Elana Yael Heideman – Lag B’Omer: Fires Of The Jewish Spirit
Today we celebrate Bar Kochba’s fighting Jewish spirit and his resolve to protect the freedom of Jews and Jewish practice in our ancient homeland of Israel.
For years, Jews would pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Lag B’Omer, thankful that we could finally celebrate the liberation of our holy city.
Now, throughout Israel and around the world, we kindle bonfires (medurot מדורות) that embody that pride.
Whether in Israel or in our communities around the world, we celebrate our ancient past once again coming alive in the land of our fathers.
On Lag B’Omer, the 18th day of Iyyar, Bar Kochba’s army attempted to reconquer Jerusalem, in the events otherwise known as the Second Jewish Revolt.
Triggered by the Romans decree to outlaw circumcision, Bar Kochba, whose name means Son of a Star, led his army, comprised of 350,000 Jews and non-Jews in a revolt lasted nearly 3 years (132-135 CE), during which he governed over the independent Jewish State.
It is believed that on Lag B’Omer, after a long battle against the Romans ended, the troops emerged from their various caves and lit fires to let their fellow fighters know they were alive.
Sadly, Bar Kochba and his army were destroyed in the great battles defending the fortress city of Betar, southwest of Jerusalem.
The Talmud (in Gittin 57a) relates what happened in Betar:
“… they killed [Jewish] men, women and children until their blood flowed into the Mediterranean Sea … It was taught that for seven years the gentiles cultivated their vineyards with the blood of Israel without requiring manure for fertilization.“
The Jewish population of Judea was exiled and the trauma of Betar after the fall of Jerusalem affected deep changes in the Jewish people.
For the survivors, the Bar Kochba uprising marked the great divide between the hope for national independence and dispersal in the Diaspora.
It was only at this time, in 135CE that the Kingdom of Israel received the name Palestina by the Romans, and nothing resembling a Jewish state arose in the area again until modern Israel.
It would be 2,000 years before there would again be a Jewish fighting force that would protect and defend the Nation of Israel and our right to our ancient homeland.
Each of the stories of our Jewish past bears a connection to Israel, both her land and her legacy.
Passed down through the generations, this link has gotten lost for many in a search for its spiritual and religious implications.
The time has come to protect the connection to Israel as a part of the inheritance the Jewish People protects.
Both Bar Kochba and Bar Yochai have a place in the legacy of Lag b’Omer (just maybe not as much as fires, but still…)
Dr. Elana Yael Heideman, Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation, is a dynamic and passionate educator who works creatively and collaboratively in developing content and programming to deepen and activate the personal connection to Israel for Diaspora Jews. Elana’s extensive experience in public speaking, educational consulting and analytic research and writing has served to advance her vision of Israel-inspired Jewish identity that incorporates the relevance of the Holocaust, Antisemitism and Zionism to contemporary issues faced throughout the Jewish world in a continuous effort to facilitate dialogue and build bridges between the past, present and future.