Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lag Ba'Omer

Sunday was Lag Ba'Omer, a Jewish holiday shrouded in mystery. Some people think (see "Jewish Literacy," by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin) it was a day on which Rabbi Akiba's students won a victory over the Romans, who eventually killed everyone anyway. At any rate it is a day of merrymaking and festivities.

Jeff and I went to the celebration at Lindy Park, hosted by the Brikmans. Let me first say that Lindy Park, the peninsula tip of Brooklyn, is one of the overlooked gems of the world. (I used to take Jeff on the swings there when he was little, but the '02 nor'easter later swept away the playground.) The Orthodox have built a very nice erev around the grounds, and somebody just installed five park benches. The view of Manhattan of course is amazing, if one can forget the stench of the steady stream of smoke that blew over for weeks following 911. (Once one has the smell of war in one's nostrils, however, it is hard to forget it; see Salinger, "For Esme, with Love and Squalor.")

Jeff and I ate some hot dogs and said hello to all the local well-wishers who had been so kind during my illness. Isser claims he ate 30 cotton candies; there was a moon walk and a pony ride. (Jeff and I knew that since so much shit has recently come down, there had to be a pony somewhere - and we were right!) Rubi, the newspaperman, kept a bonfire going in a metal trash can. (The traditional outdoor, natural setting of the the party and the building of a fire suggest battlefields; hence Rabbi Telushkin's explanation of Lag Ba'Omer.)

After Jeff had gone back to Cobble Hill, I went with the Brikmans to the Ohel. (Lag Ba'Omer, I am told, is a VERY good day to visit the Rebbe, and the very crowded cemetery was proof enough.) I thanked the Rebbe for all the miracles he has already performed and chanted the 60th psalm from the book of Tehillin my students had just given me. Then I prayed for some more very important miracles. I had to push a little bit to get right up to the Rebbe's grave, but I succeeded.

Then I walked, still barefoot, to the left of the Ohel to search for the graves of Sheryl's father's parents. Unfortunately almost all the tombstones are entirely in Hebrew, so I could not know for sure that I had found the exact site. I had a feeling, though, that I was standing on just the right spot, so I thanked Michael Gordon's parents for the miracle, which they had performed hands-in-hand with the Rebbe, of Sheryl's arrival into our lives.

It was already quite cold and dark, and it felt to me as if the dead had already been resurrected - if only just in spirit: a truly mystical moment.

On the way out, there were a few graves with English inscriptions. The simple REST IN PEACE struck me suddently not as cliched but as almost entirely adequte. On my gravestone only one more word needs to be added: REST IN PEACE (FINALLY).

Back in the enclosed area, I put my shoes back on, ate some cookies, washed my hands, and left some tzedakah. Isser needed help purchasing a small carton of chicken soup from the vending machine, so I helped him. I ate some more cookies.

After a short stop in Crown Height, we went back home and to bed. It had been a very good day.

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