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There are times in life that one is able to see the beginning and end of an idea or movement in its entirety. When I was a child I remember vividly that the first day of May was called May Day and was the day of celebration of the proletariat Left. Fiery speeches, and loud bands, tens of thousands of marchers waving red flags all dominated the media and street of the day.
The mood of the day warned of the coming revolution that would sweep all injustice and inequality from the face of human society and bring forth the great new future as proclaimed by Marx and reinforced by Lenin and Stalin. May Day was set aside as a day of warning to the capitalist bosses that the example of the Soviet Union would be repeated throughout Europe and even in the United States.
Labor unions had amassed great political and economic power, and class warfare seem to be inevitable. My parents would not allow me to go out on the street on May Day to watch the parade, lest I also would somehow become infected with the Marxist virus that then seemed to be so unstoppable. When the Soviet Union became part of the coalition of the Allied countries it became almost unpatriotic not to at least mark May Day as a worthy addition to the calendar of civilization. Suddenly we all became part of the revolution of the proletariat.
There is another noteworthy day of, this one on the Jewish calendar which always found itself in the month of May. This day, Lag B’Omer is a traditional commemoration marking events that occurred many centuries ago. The Talmud teaches us that the students of the great Rabbi Akiva were decimated by a plague that ravaged them. It is not clear to us what that plague was, man-made or otherwise, but the root cause of it was the lack of respect from one human being to another.
Somehow all on that day, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, the plague ran its course and the students who survived no longer succumbed. Over the centuries this day took on a mystical and Kabbalistic orientation and became connected to the great Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, who lived under Roman persecution in second century Palestine. Today it is a rallying call for Jewish physical strength and proficiency in archery and other such exercises.
It was always a subdued day of celebration, especially during the dark stretches of the Jewish exile. But the day was always remembered and observed in spite of its seeming irrelevance. People were convinced that it was a day that marked the past but did not see it as being a harbinger of the future. As such, outside of the observant Jewish world, it had little resonance amongst the progressive, forward thinking, always relevant Jews who saw themselves as being the unstoppable wave of the future.
Therefore, for a considerable part of this past century it seemed clear that there were more May Day Jews amongst us than Lag B’Omer Jews. This was true even here in the Land of Israel through most of the years of the past century. However, as is true in almost all other man-made commemorations and cutting-edge pronouncements, somehow May Day has withered and practically disappeared from current generations. The fate of May Day has been sealed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and much of the Communist ideology that it represented and fostered.
The dictatorship of the proletariat turned out to be as evil a dictatorship as the world had previously witnessed. Class warfare was only another form of illegal violence and venal corruption. May Day proved itself to be of little value in the progress of civilization or in the history of positive events in human kind. However, especially here in the land of Israel, Lag B’Bomer, with its attendant bonfires, children's parades and pilgrimages to Meron continues to gain popularity and adherents. To me at least, there is something deeply satisfying regarding this turn of events.
The hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews who have arrived in Israel over the past few decades have no desire to celebrate May Day, but they are all now well aware that there is another special day in May, Lag B’Omer, that is worthy of commemoration. In my youth, I never thought that I would live to see such a turn of events and such a glorious change in Jewish society.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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