BROOKLYN, May 19, 2014 — For finance, there is Manhattan. For politics, there is Washington, DC. For Hollywood, there is, unsurprisingly, Hollywood. For Judaism at its finest and most proud, there is the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn, New York.
The holiday of Lag B’omer is celebrated by Jews worldwide, but the famous 770 Eastern Parkway was ground zero for “The Great Parade.”
While not every Jew in America took to the streets for revelry, it seemed like they did. This was Judaism at its most loud, proud, and of course, peaceful.
The Counting of the Omer is a 50-day ritual that stretches from Passover to Shavuous. The 33rd day of the counting of the Omer is Lag B’omer.
Lag B’omer is a celebration of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the second century. On Lag B’omer, Rabbi Yochai created the Zohar (Book of Splendor), which offered insights into the Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah.
A popular ritual of Lag B’omer involves lighting nighttime bonfires as the kids roast marshmallows and hot dogs. During the day, there are many festivals, none bigger than at “770.”
Thousands of Jews lined the streets as hundreds of children proudly held up signs declaring their love of all things Jewish. Signs extolling the virtues of keeping kosher (obeying the Jewish dietary laws), keeping the Sabbath, and spreading love and peace were everywhere.
Judaism is a religion deeply steeped in peace. Lag B’omer allows Jews to spread far and wide into the streets to deliver a message of peace. The theme for the Great Parade was “A day of Jewish unity and pride.” As always, chants of, “We want Mashiach (the Messiah, everlasting peace) now!” were everywhere.
While all Jews have the opportunity to participate, this parade was put together by Chabad, a sect of Orthodox Judaism. Chabad follows the teachings of the Rebbe Menachem Schneerson. Chabad houses are all over the world. While Brooklyn is second only to Israel in terms of significance, Chabad Houses in places such as Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Stamford, Connecticut had their own festivities. Barbecues are the order of the day, and the West Coast headquarters of Chabad in Los Angeles was no exception.
While many of the male Crown Heights attendees looked like a cross between the Amish and ZZ-Top, this was not a gathering of just Duck Dynasty Rabbis. One individual’s leather jacket showed him to be the Nassau County representative for the Harley Davidson movement. He had on the traditional Yarmulke (Jewish skullcap) to complement his motorcycle attire.
Promotions included Jewish Summer camps where children could learn Torah (Old Testament) as well as play. A new I-phone application allows people to get a daily Mashiach message to lift their spirits.
For almost four hours, Jews danced and sang over several blocks. While there was a heavy police presence, the only incidents came when EMTs attended to elderly Jews battling exhaustion from the heat. The Great Parade was as peaceful as it was meaningful and uplifting.
Brooklyn is a diverse city. There were Muslims and black Americans leaving their mosques and churches. There was no conflict, just cheery expressions of mutual respect.
When the parade ended, the children went to their homes and Synagogues for further revelry mixed in with learning. T-shirts in lime green for the men and pink for the women commemorated the Great Parade. Flags were waved high, with one word on them that every person could benefit from experiencing: Mashiach.