Lag B’Omer After The Earthquake

Lag B’Omer After The Earthquake

The bonfire flickers as a rescue worker gazes in its flames.

by Dovid Zaklikowski - Kathmandu, Nepal

May 7, 2015

At the Chabad House in Kathmandu, Nepal, posters informing visitors and travelers of Chabad activities are never made professionally. The paper, in some cases a paper plate, gets pinned to the bulletin board. The modest sign is usually created the night before the event, with a marker in the hands of the ever-dedicated Chabad representative Chani Lifshitz.

Today, Jewish communities around the globe celebrate Lag B’omer, a day that, among other noteworthy events, honors the passing of 2nd-century Jewish sage and kabbalist, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. A mystic, known also as the author of the Zohar, and as the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon asked that his day of passing should not be marked by mourning, rather by celebration.

This year, Lag B’omer comes at a difficult time for Chabad of Nepal. While sitting down to create her poster, Chani’s husband, Rabbi Chezki was in the midst of a difficult rescue effort in the destroyed Langtang village, following last month’s quake.

“Just outside of our door corpses are piling up, the wounds—physical and emotional, are still bleeding,” said Chani, asking herself: “How should I word the poster marking a celebration? How can we, in this situation that has affected the country, celebrate at all?”

Since the earthquake struck, the Chabad House in Nepal has been a safe place for survivors and aid workers who flew from Israel. The trekkers who saw destruction, the aid workers who pulled small children from the rubble and others buried under the weight of their collapsed homes, now come together to ponder, to seek answers, to comfort each other and seek words of wisdom from the Lifshitzs.

Chani Lifshitz speaks of the resilience of the Jewish nation. “This is our strength, to understand that we do not understand, but yet we trek forward,” she said as she made her poster with black, yellow, brown and red markers, small bonfires around her announcement on a paper plate.

The Chabad representative was acting on the words of Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, words he said at a Jewish Unity and Pride Parade over three decades ago: “Rabbi Shimon lifted up his generation, and through his teachings the generations to come, to a higher spiritual plane… we must too lift up those around us, with the strength and ability endowed to us through Rabbi Shimon.”

An hour after returning from Langtang, Rabbi Chezki, stood in front of the crowd, a bonfire burning in the center. He spoke of the tragedy, he spoke of healing, he spoke of the future, and the need to move forward, but with greater compassion and understanding. Lifshitz spoke about the teachings of mysticism.

He told of Rabbi Akiva, the Talmudic sage, whose students died in a plague that ceased on Lag B’omer. He echoed the 1984 words of the Rebbe about the sage who is mentioned over 1500 times in the Talmud: “To Rabbi Akiva, every individual was precious. He educated his students with the great principle, ‘to love your fellow as yourself’ . . .  This is what we need to learn from Lag B'omer, from our experience here in Nepal.”

Chani’s colorful poster said: “We will sit around the fire in unity and song.” Visitors, backpackers, travelers celebrted Lag B’omer with new appreciation, grateful for each other, for life and the gift of friendship.

“It was a kumzitz [sit down] of song and unity. The flames of the bonfire warmed our bodies, and the words of comfort warmed our souls,” Chani said.

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