Two major community events marked the relatively minor holiday of Lag B’Omer on April 28, bringing some bombast — and thousands of people — to local celebrations.
In Pico-Robertson, Pico Boulevard was transformed into a pedestrian’s paradise for Jews from across Southern California while Thousand Oaks welcomed people for a Jewish Day of Unity.
“The Great Parade” on Pico restricted the road to foot, bike and (lots of) stroller traffic between Doheny Drive and Livonia Avenue, organized by Rabbi Chaim Cunin’s Chabad of California along with more than a dozen other Chabads, the Jewish Journal and its parent company, TRIBE Media Corp.
Festivities kicked off at 10:30 a.m. with musical performances by Israeli artist and former “Les Misérables” Broadway performer Dudu Fisher, Sam Glaser, shofar musical artist David Zasloff and the Cheder Menachem Boys Choir.
Until late evening, Pico became a Jewish summer carnival, with families streaming in and out and clowns dancing in the streets. The sound of games filled the air, along with the smell of kosher eats.
Jonathan Abesera, who rode with two of his children on the Chabad SOLA (South La Cienega) parade float, said it felt like putting on a huge Jewish party in the center of Los Angeles.
“Look at this. It’s beautiful to see how we closed off the street,” Abesera said. “All the other people who are not even involved, who are not even Jewish — how impressed they are.”
The parade, which resembled a slice of kosher Mardi Gras in Pico-Robertson, featured bagpipes, 9/11 tribute cars, “Trinidad drummers” and even the inauguration of the world’s first “Mitzvah Cable Car,” a restored San Francisco cable car purchased by the Chabad of San Francisco and trucked into Los Angeles the night before the festival.
In Thousand Oaks, Chabad leaders from the Conejo Valley and Ventura County focused on ways to get the larger Jewish community to celebrate the holiday together.
“Two months ago, some of the Chabad centers around the Conejo Valley and Ventura County got to talking and discussed how in the past we all did our own events for Lag B’Omer in local parks,” explained Rabbi Dov Muchnik, who with his wife Racheli, serves as co-director of the Chabad of Oxnard. “However, because the theme of Lag B’Omer is Jewish unity, we realized this was the perfect occasion for all of our communities to get together.
The result was the first Jewish Day of Unity, held at Thousand Oaks High School, where people gathered to commemorate the 33rd day after Passover, which some say marks the end of an ancient plague and the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
“This event is not specifically Chabad,” said Devorah Heidingsfeld, an event organizer and co-director of Chabad of Moorpark. “Instead, we removed all the labels and made it just about Jews as a greater extended family.”
The Day of Unity, whose highlights included performances by the band Moshav and Chazzan Pablo Duek of Temple Etz Chaim, offered everything from a children’s choir and orchestra to fire jugglers. There was other typical festival fare, too: rides, food and vendors for products and services ranging from self-defense classes to international tour organizers.
Sylvia Wildfire, a Conejo resident since 1997, said the event made her proud to be part of the area’s Jewish community.
“The one thing I love is looking around and seeing so many people here,” she said. “This is amazing, to see different branches of the community coming out, supporting each other and interacting.”
Event co-organizer Auna Simon engaged children in arts and crafts, designing cards for Israeli soldiers to show their support for their efforts on behalf of protecting Israel.
As 5-year-old Michael Beck put his finishing touches on his portrait of an Israeli soldier, his mother, Miri Beck, said, “It is amazing to see so many people coming together to relax and enjoy the day as well as connect.”