Calendars and Days: Lag B’Omer

Tomorrow I will shoot a bow and arrow, even though when I tried less than two weeks ago, I snapped the bowstring on my arm and raised a welt the size of a rutabaga.

Lag B’Omer is tomorrow. This is a peculiar holiday, maybe the quirkiest day of the Jewish calendar. The forty days of the counting of the Omer between Peysekh and Shavuous are a solemn time. The holiday of Lag B’Omer (the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer) is a respite from that solemnity, and includes the various pleasures one does not partake of during the counting, along with various other spring-like observances and festivities.

It is a day of weddings, otherwise not permitted during this time.

It is also a day of outdoor walks and meals, of archery and bonfires and haircuts. I never had anything to do with counting the Omer when I was young (my family mostly only took note of the major holidays and, with the exception of the Passover Seder and a few nights of Chanukah, did not faithfully observe even them), so it does not really resonate with me. But Lag B’Omer is so wacky that it’s hard not to get in the mood.

In fact, I got married on Lag B’Omer, even though it was a mixed marriage, and we did not have a Jewish officiant. It was on May 13, 27 years ago. It also happened to be on Mother’s Day.

The strange thing about having two calendars is that they tend move in and out of phase. This can lead to a certain blurriness of vision. Leslie’s yortsayt (the anniversary of her death) is on the 22nd of Adar, which may or may not coincide with March 18th. This year it was pretty close– March 20th. I had the choice of which day I got to be sad and grateful. Or, if I chose, I could be sad and grateful for the whole three-day period. I went with the 18th, because it was a Saturday, and so I could feel bad about not going to synagogue to say kaddish.

Today, Saturday, is the day on the ‘American’ calendar that would have been our anniversary. But tomorrow being both Lag B’Omer and Mother’s Day feels more to the point.

In Jamaica Plain, where we lived at the time, there is also the tradition of Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum which, I’m pretty sure, always coincides with Mother’s Day. We took a walk with both our families in the Arboretum the day before our wedding, and we had lots of lilacs at the wedding itself. Many years later, when Leslie was ill, she and I and the kids were all back in Boston and went to the Arboretum on Mother’s Day. In addition to smelling the lilacs, we looked at the Bonsai collection and got a plant to take home (I don’t remember what plant), and Adam had his first migraine headache. It was a bittersweet day, at a place that had once stood for pure pleasure. So that association is an overlay on top of the other calendars.

Just now I looked on the web and saw that Lilac Sunday has moved to Saturday this year because of predicted bad weather. So it turns out that the calendar can get blurry all by itself. Likewise, I suppose if it’s too rainy here for archery tomorrow, I could try for the day after. But on Sunday I’ll have better company.

What does any of this have to do with Yiddish? It doesn’t, except that Yiddish is a mashup, a hybrid of Jewishness and worldliness. So, when for idiosyncratic and very personal reasons I have multiple calendars in my head at the same time, or when I choose to observe a bit of a colorful Jewish holiday that clearly has Pagan roots, it just has that Tongue’s Memory feeling to me.

I don’t know if you are thinking of finals time or of blooming, of endings or beginnings, or both. Or maybe one day is so odd that it seems plucked out of the season. There are enough calendars, and enough births and deaths and anniversaries, that it sometimes seems like one can choose to remember whatever one wishes on whatever day one likes. Whatever the season means to you, I wish you season’s greetings.


Bow and Arrow Challah from

Let it Remind You

An excerpt from Roberts Ventures (Robert’s Adventures):
“I shook myself. I woke up. Heniah was not sleeping. She said quietly to me:
‘Look, brother. It’s only the beginning of May and our boss’s house is already locked up. He has taken his whole family and gone away, by our very home shtetl, to his vacation house in Sosnovan Forest. Momma supplies his family with bagels every day. We work here and he pays Momma with our money, with our labor. Boruch, I wish with all my might that I was home.’
She cried quietly. I consoled her:
‘Sha, sister. There will come a time when we will take over the factory, and we’ll work for everyone, not only to satisfy the appetites of the rich. We will send sick workers on vacation so they get well. All the summer places and parks will be ours. Everything that we build and create will be for those who work.’
My sister answered quietly:
‘I will not live to see it brother. Maybe you will. So remember, when the time comes that there is a holiday, and the people march through the streets carrying flags, songs on their lips and joy in their hearts, let it remind you of your sister Heniah, who died young, and spat out her lungs in the factory.’
‘Don’t talk nonsense, sister,’ I answered. Your cough is not that dangerous. It will get better.’
‘Don’t comfort me with lies, Boruch. I know where I stand.’
“And in fact, she did not live long.”
— from ‘Robert’s Adventures’. 1938, By Solomon Simon
Happy May Day.

translator’s note:

Though Solomon Simon was viewed as on the ‘right’ for his generation, the ‘right’ among American Jews in the late 30s was mostly made up of socialists by temperament who were unaffiliated with any revolutionary party, of Social Democrats, and, at what would be seen as the real ‘right wing’, of progressive Democrats who believed that Roosevelt would get most of the results that the left had been pressing for. Another post makes it clear that he grew at least somewhat more politically conservative over time. But there is no reason to suspect that his sympathies for working people fundamentally changed.

He also knew his audience. Writing for the children in the Yiddish schools meant writing not only for his own group, the Sholem Aleichem Folk Schools, but also for the parents and children of the Workmen’s Circle schools, who were more frankly socialist, and for the parents and children of the Farband (labor Zionist) schools, and the Communist schools run by “the Ordn”.