Celebrating Lag B’Omer Moroccan Style

Bonfires were just one part of Morocco's Lag B'Omer Celebrations.
Two weeks ago was Lag B’Omer, the thirty-third day of the Omer, a light-hearted Jewish holiday that marks a break in the mourning customs associated with the counting of the seven-week period from Passover to Shavuot. Jews traditionally celebrate the holiday with outings, bonfires, weddings, and other community ceremonies.

Getting a special taste of festivities that are especially meaningful to the Moroccan Jewish community, some of the members of JDC Entwine’s Inside Jewish Morocco 2017 trip took part in a hiloula or religious ceremony in Marrakech. The ceremony brought Jewish community members and visitors together to visit the grave of a tzadik, or righteous, where they lit candles and prayed for health and prosperity.

This entire trip consisted of a group of eighteen young professionals from across the US, Canada, Israel and Europe, who traveled with JDC Entwine to explore Jewish communities throughout Morocco including San Diego, Casablanca, Fes, Rabat, and Marrakech.

“As an Ashkenazi Jew from New York, it was incredibly unique and inspiring to see the way that the community in Morocco celebrates Lag B’Omer and the emphasis they place on tzadikim (righteous). It was totally different from the traditions I am used to, and it opened my eyes to a new perspective of Jewish community identity,” said Joan Kagan, co-chair of Entwine’s Inside Jewish Morocco trip.

While Lag B’Omer is a lesser known holiday, Morocco’s Jewish community has long been holding hiloula ceremonies to celebrate, and the community remains strong and vibrant despite its small size.

This was just one of the reasons why it was important for the group of young professionals to engage with the unique and historic community of Marrakech, as well as get a firsthand view of overall Jewish needs in Morocco. Additionally, the Entwine trip participants visited the grave of a rabbi buried on a mountainside, along with local Jewish community members.

“Knowing how important Lag B’Omer is for the Moroccan Jewish community, I felt extremely privileged to participate in the nighttime hiloula in Marrakech’s cemetery. At this particular event, the tzedakah (charitable donation) that was collected went to help sustain the cemetery, and I was happy to be a part of that,” said participant Tzvika Avnery from Israel. “It was also very unique to witness that the celebration kicked off with a prayer for the King of Morocco; I’ve never experienced anything like that. I am so happy I was able to experience this trip with JDC Entwine and I am going to tell all of my friends what they missed and that they must get involved!”

JDC is a key partner for small Jewish communities across Northern Africa, including in Morocco.

Through JDC Entwine, the growing young adult engagement initiative of JDC, young Jews are making a meaningful impact on global Jewish needs and international humanitarian issues by participating in overseas travel and service opportunities. Spanning a week to one year, upcoming travel includes trips to Argentina, Chile, Georgia, Cuba, Rwanda, and Russia.

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