May 23, 2011
All Ages, Backgrounds and Denominations Attend Lag b’Omer Beach Bonfire Parties
Standing around a large bonfire on the beach, groups of people sitting on the sand, on blankets, and the sound of bongo drums filling the air, Evyn Charles played his acoustic guitar and led a sing-a-long of songs by Pink Floyd, Jason Mraz and other artists.
Charles was one of hundreds of people, who, last night, Sunday, May 22, went to Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey, to enjoy bonfires and barbequed food in celebration of Lag b’Omer, the 33rd day between Pesach and Shavuot, a day for marking the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
“It’s like an essential thing to be apart of for me,” said Charles, 42, a professional musician, explaining why he went. “I’m not a super observant Jew…but this is more like my speed.”
600 people attended the peaceful event, estimated a Los Angeles Police Department official on the scene, including people of all ages, backgrounds and denominations. Indeed, early during the parties—which started at 6 p.m. and ended around 10 p.m.—guys and girls snuggled and participated in drum circles; girls in their twenties, wearing boots and tight jeans, lined up to buy barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers and a minyan took place nearby, with Orthodox Jews facing away from the ocean and davening.
“It’s very unorganized,” said Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, executive rabbi at JConnect LA, a young professional organization that held one of the bonfire parties, and he meant that as a compliment.
“If somebody has issues with organized religion,” he added, “this is in the place to come. There’s no program. You just come hang out and enjoy yourself at the beach in honor Lag b’Omer.”
The beach bonfire parties for Lag b’omer are an annual event on Dockweiler Beach, largely because Dockweiler doesn’t require permits to have bonfires, a traditional aspect of Lag b’Omer celebrations.
Around 9 p.m., approximately one dozen of these bonfires raged at once across the sand, lighting up the night. JConnectLA and Haichal Moshe banded together to throw one of those parties, involving three bonfires that drew hundreds of people. The second largest bonfire party was nearby, made up of congregants of Shabazi synagogue, an Israeli-Yemenite congregation in the Pico-Robertson area, and all around, small groups of people gathered next to other bonfires, scattered across the sand, wearing sweatshirts and pants due to the slightly chilly weather.
Though some people were there simply to hang out, for reasons other than to celebrate Lag b’Omer, the majority came out for the holiday, and a large Israeli flag, planted into the sand, marked the occasion.
Debra Chenay, a landlord in the Pico-Robertson area, came with the Shabazi group, and she said it’s important to acknowledge that Lag b‘Omer is about more than partying.
“We’re supposed to party, but we do try to remember what the point is of Lag b’Omer,” Chenay said, “that it’s the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, and it’s the time to remember” bar Yochai and the students of Rabbi Akiva.
On Sunday, parties took place all across Los Angeles to celebrate the holiday, including a Day of Jewish Unity parade organized by Chabad in the afternoon and Lagapalooza 20011, a concert at the Jewish Community Center of Redondo Beach.
At the Dockweiler parties, there were complaints of long waits at the Schnitzel Wagon Food Truck, and airplanes regularly flew low in the sky overhead - LAX is near Dockweiler beach – but as Ida Zarrabi, a marriage family therapist who came out with her two friends, said, the evening was a positive one, focused on Jewish unity. “It’s such a wonderful feeling to see the Israel flag and all the bonfires here and really get together,” she said. “It’s been really nice.”