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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Israeli tradition burns brightly in Riverdale

By Shant Shahrigian
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
A bonfire at The Riverdale Y mesmerizes onlookers on Sunday. The blaze was part of a celebration of Lag B’Omer, a holiday gaining popularity in Riverdale.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Peter Heller, an auxiliary police officer with the 50th Precinct, goes through a Tfillin ceremony during Chabad Lubavitch of Riverdale’s Lag B’Omer celebration on Sunday.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Donny Rosenrauch, 5, exits a giant, inflatable hamster ball at the Chabad’s event.
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Natalie Allon, 8, beats to the rhythm along with Justine Toca and Roberto Carlo of Toca NYC.

oAt The Riverdale Ym-ywha’s Sunday celebration of Lag B’Omer — a Jewish holiday widely celebrated in Israel but less well known in the U.S. — Guy Reouven recalled joyous gatherings for the day in his native Ramat HaSharon, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

“It’s religious, but not so religious,” said the Riverdale resident and father of three. He added that he and his friends would gather wood for days and store it in bomb shelters before building the bonfires that traditionally mark the holiday. “We used to fill up the room and the manager was killing us — ‘You have to clean the room!’”

This year, Mr. Reouven and a friend picked up some wood that a nearby Home Depot was going to destroy and brought it to The Y’s parking lot. Like other parents at the event, many of whom originally came from Israel, Mr. Reouven said he wanted to preserve his native country’s tradition.

“This is a taste for the kids... who didn’t grow up in Israel,” said Mr. Reouven, who sported a T-shirt saying “Israel” and a Yankees cap.

Lag B’Omer marks an important day in the part of the Jewish calendar counting the time between Passover — the holiday that marks Jews’ release from slavery in ancient Egypt — and Shavuot, the day Jews believe God conveyed the Hebrew Bible. The 1 A.D. death of a spiritual leader named Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai turned the 33rd day after Passover into a holiday. According to tradition, the rabbi told people not to mourn, but celebrate.

“Today, literally millions of Jews all over the world are celebrating,” Rabbi Levi Shemtov, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of Riverdale, said at a Sunday afternoon celebration that his organization held. “Celebrate the unity of the Jewish people and, obviously, from the Jewish people extends to all human beings.”

The Chabad event had a fun fair atmosphere, with a moon bounce, pony rides and games at Seton Park and on a block of West 235th Street. While there was no bonfire, a trampoline act entertained dozens of local families at the end of the afternoon.

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