Lag Ba'Omer in Meron

The final resting place of Shimon bar Yohai is a source of blessings for many.

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A Reflection

I wrote this poem, "Bar Yohai (Ai Yai Yai)," after I attended Lag Ba'Omer in Meron. I'd spent all day climbing up and down the hill, praying, people-watching, passing goats being slaughtered, and children playing every manner of ball game. I'd seen a rabbi, a descendent of Bar Yohai, throwing himself onto the top of the famed scholar's tomb, weeping. I'd seen totally secular Israelis, standing in their too-tight shorts and muscle shirts, whispering psalms in the most fervent, humbled voices.

It was one of the most spiritual events I'd ever experienced. Yet everything about it was also intensely, singularly physical. I barely spoke the language. I didn't understand many of the customs. It was a clash of dozens of cultures, some totally alien to me, and some I couldn't even name. But all of them distinctly and unmistakably Jewish.

Bar Yohai (Ai Yai Yai)

That night we ran
from bar Yohai's grave to
deep in the valley of Meron

It felt like the prophet was pushing us,
not gravity
as we soared past dancing Hasidim and
old ladies giving out cookies and
fortunes and
boxes of yeshiva boys
seeing the sun
for the first time in
weeks

Inside the tomb I
snuck in early
not wanting to wait for nightfall

Yes, I know
for those who gathered there at sunset there
were promises of a sin-free life at stake
I didn’t want that
I just wanted to say hi

apparently everyone had the same idea
the sweat of eight
hundred thousand sweaty Israeli men
crowded up against me
cramming into my personal space
shirts splayed open like an autopsy
broadcasting more sweat and
Stay away from me, I'm a smell machine
fighting to get closer to the kever
I wanted to tell them
I'm only here for the rabbi
 
Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai hid out in a cave for 13 years
learning Torah and being antisocial
I don't blame him,
that's how I learned to love G-d
today eight hundred thousand people came there
all trying to speak the same language
everyone tried to talk to each other but
no one was listening
the chaos was its own language

I met strangers all day, hugged them like brothers
we weren't sure to go from there so
we laughed and left

At the moment of sunset
all eight hundred thousand prayed at once, toward Jerusalem
and I ran
all eight hundred thousand people
scattered over that hill
and I wanted to get away from all of them
everything rushed by me,
people
music
food
felt like I wasn’t moving at all
like a Buddhist paradox

Halfway down I crashed
into an old Sephardic lady who looked like she'd
just cooked dinner for eight hundred thousand

She handed me a baguette full of
vegetables rescued from a king's table
hundreds of years ago
No thanks, I said, I don't know you

Don’t be stupid, son, start eating, she said
Thirteen years in a cave is a long time

 
She fed me like the apocalypse
was coming
I ate just enough
to keep running

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Matthue Roth

Matthue Roth created Jewniverse. He also co-created G-dcast, the animated Torah film series. His most recent book is My First Kafka, a picture book for children. He's also the author of the memoir Yom Kippur a Go-Go and three novels. He lives in Brooklyn with his family, and he keeps a secret diary at www.matthue.com.