Friday, April 30, 2010

Everybody loves a parade

You could see frost on the grass when we gathered at Yeoville Park thirty years ago. I wasn’t sure if I was shivering from excitement or simply from the cold. Luckily, they handed out wooly hats to keep us warm. They also distributed slogan-bearing placards for us to carry into the streets. Now that I think about it, I was a little young to join public action. A TV news crew covered the proceedings (we were later featured on the 8pm news) as journalists fanned out to interview members of the crowd. This was South Africa’s first ever Lag B’omer parade.

I remember the mayor speaking (not that I recall any of what he said) and the military marching band striking a high note. Kilted bagpipe players meandered between the floats that depicted Shabbos, kosher and “flying high” with Mitzvos (that full-scale model plane stood for months after at my friend’s house, and we’d hop into the “cockpit”, spin the propellor and “fly off” to imaginary destinations).

Parades are exhilirating. New Yorkers crowd Manhattan’s streets for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and thousands flock each year to Rio’s Mardi Gras. Yesterday, Cape Town hosted a different parade as our national security forces flexed their muscle ahead of the Soccer World Cup. A more chilling parade is Ahmadinejad’s annual “Army Day” military hardware display.

Lag B’omer parades are decidedly unique. Decades ago, the Rebbe launched Lag B’omer parades as a way of uniting Jewish children and encouraging greater Jewish involvement.

The earliest Lag B’omer parade must date back over two centuries earlier. The Ba’al Shem Tov, as a young man, would travel incognito to various shtetls to uplift the spirits of the Jewish community and encourage Jewish observance. He once visited a village just as a marauding gang of peasants arrived to loot and terrorise its citizens. All the Jews fled to caves in the neighbouring hills to wait out the storm. On Lag B’omer morning- much to the terror of their parents-the Baal Shem Tov gathered all the children to parade in honour of the special day. They sang and he offered them treats. As soon as they finished, the looters ran in panic from the village, leaving the goods they had planned to steal.

Nations use parades to show their might. A Lag B’omer parade is more than a simple kiddies fun day, it’s a show of Jewish might. The Rebbe often related the children’s parade to King David’s words in Tehillim: “From the mouths of babes, You have established strength, to neutralise the enemy.” He often emphaiszed that Lag B’omer is an auspicious time to garner Divine protection for our People, it’s a time when our enemies’ plans can be defused through our unity.

As Iran flaunts its strength and the world criticizes our every move, let’s get together and parade our Jewish pride and unity through the streets.

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