Lag b’Omer is not exactly a widely celebrated holiday. But I’d like to make a case that we need Lag b’Omer.
So… what exactly is it?
On the Jewish calendar, the 49 days between Passover and physical liberation from slavery in Egypt to Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, are counted and marked as the Omer. In addition to special prayers still said today, the Biblical mandate was a daily offering of a sheaf of barley, called an “omer.” In Israel, the holiday falls between the barley and wheat harvests.
Historically and religiously, the Omer is a period of mourning, introspection and reflection during which it is customary for some not to shave, cut their hair or attend celebrations. Throughout the centuries, these days have also marked extraordinarily difficult times, including deadly massacres during the Roman and Crusade periods s well as outbreaks of the plague.
But the 33rd day—and “lag” represents the number 33—is a break in the seriousness and set aside as a special day of celebration.
On this day in Israel and around the world, people celebrate with picnics, bonfires, BBQs and outdoor fun. Akin to Memorial Day, it acts as an unofficial kickoff to summer. First haircuts for three-year-old boys are a tradition among observant Jews along with parties, weddings and other festivities not held on other days during seven weeks of the Omer.
It seems these days, we can “count” too many acts of brutality and terror. On Lag b’Omer, as we continue to keep the victims of recent tragedies and senseless violence in our hearts and minds, let’s gather together and celebrate the moments we have and live in those joyous moments.
And let’s do it right! Instead of greasy burgers and mayonnaise-covered potatoes, my Lag b’Omer menu this year will consist of balsamic-laced watermelon soup, grilled chicken breast and red pepper kabobs marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette, a side of mango-peach salsa, a wild rice salad tossed with loads of fresh seasonal veggies and chocolate chip chickpea cookies.
This cold watermelon soup is always a unique crowd favorite, especially in summer. A refreshing dish of cold, fresh ingredients can reduce your internal temperature, both physical and mental, by several degrees. Not to mention, a relatively small amount of nutritious ingredients can feed a big crowd of hungry guests.
It’s simple, cool flavors evoke the feeling of summer and the addition of the balsamic reduction gives it a sophisticated taste that is sure to wow your guests who will think you’ve spent hours creating this simple gem.
With a menu like this, your guests are sure to have the energy for a rousing game of croquet in the yard. Let’s hope the weather is as delicious as the menu!