Lag B’Omer heralds cautious return to in-person events

Lag B'Omer celebration in 2014
Chabad of Downtown’s Lag B’Omer celebration in Federal Hill Park, May 18, 2014 (Courtesy of Chabad of Downtown)

With rising vaccination rates comes the longed-for return of in-person events, and just in time to celebrate Lag B’Omer.

“Lag B’Omer is a story of triumph over tragedy,” said Rabbi Levi Druk of Chabad of Downtown. “It celebrates the end of a pandemic, which befell the students of great Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva 19 centuries ago.

“Rabbi Akiva, despite this tragedy and his old age, began anew, teaching the Torah to a new generation of students,” Druk continued. “Lag B’Omer’s message of survival and renewal couldn’t be more poignant than it is now, when we are, God willing, emerging from a terrible human tragedy and beginning a new normal.”

Traditionally celebrated outside with bonfires, Lag B’Omer makes for an easy holiday to adapt for social distancing, and several organizations in the Baltimore area are holding in-person events.

Chabad of Downtown will hold an outdoor barbecue and drum circle on April 29 at 7:30 p.m., with musical entertainment provided by Murray Piper of Passionate Drumming. Social distancing and mask wearing will be expected at the event, with “a take it to-go option for those who prefer,” Druk said.

While Chabad of Downtown isn’t expecting as many people to come to this year’s celebration as in pre-pandemic years, they are “looking forward to a nice turnout,” Druk said.

Meanwhile, on April 29 at 4:30 p.m., Beth El Congregation of Baltimore will host a Lag B’Omer event with s’mores and kosher barbecue from CharBar DC. Participants will be expected to wear masks when not eating and to remain in their family units.

“People are pre-ordering dinners from the restaurant,” said Beth El Cantor Melanie Blatt. “As people come ​to pick up their order, they’ll have an opportunity to ​briefly socialize in a safe, social distanced manner around a campfire.”

On May 2, the Macks Center for Jewish Education’s shinshinim — Israeli emissaries who spend a year abroad before their national service — will also have an in-person Lag B’Omer event. At this event, participants will be able to roast marshmallows and potatoes on a bonfire.

The shinshinim “wanted to infuse this event with more Israeli flavors,” said Zina Segal, CJE director of Global Peoplehood Education.

Aside from a few outdoor Tot Shabbat events, CJE has not held any in-person events since a Chanukah celebration in December, Segal said. As the weather warms and COVID-19 becomes less of a concern, CJE plans to hold more in-person events, such as hikes and zoo visits, in collaboration with their volunteer family connectors.

Segal has seen a growing interest in in-person events, she said, particularly from adults and families with young children, along with a preference for outdoor events.

“We noticed that it’s harder to get people on Zoom on the weekend, because people [are] trying to be outside with their families,” Segal said.

Beth El does not currently have plans for any additional in-person events, Blatt said.

Since January, the synagogue has held several events where participants picked up packages of food or other items to enjoy and celebrate with at home, though these were not in-person events, Blatt said.

“There’s a handful of people who are ready to get back together, especially now that the vaccines are rolling out,” Blatt said. “But even with that I do think that a lot of people are not ready to gather.

“I do believe it’s going to be a long time before we’re anywhere close to what we believe is normal,” she added.

Chabad of Downtown has been holding small outdoor events since the summer of 2020, Druk said, though during the winter months many of these events were either online or, like Beth El, to-go, with people picking up Shabbat dinners to bring back home, for example.

As the weather turns, though, Chabad of Downtown plans to hold a number of socially distant outdoor events, Druk said.

While there is a significant amount of interest for a return to in-person events, Druk said some may need time to acclimate to the return to normal, especially those who are particularly vulnerable.

“There is no replacement for person-to-person interaction,” Druk said. “This is especially true when building community. So we felt we must find ways to do so safely.”

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