Feverish preparations are underway at the Niklesburg Beis Medrash as it launches once again its annual Lag B’Omer celebration. The central Lag B’Omer event in Boro Park, the hadlakah and dancing under the auspices of Grand Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis shlit”a draw thousands of revelers each year. Thanks to the lively and elevated atmosphere, the celebration has earned itself the title of Meron—Niklesburg!
This year’s festivities will take place on Wednesday night May 25th in front of the shul at 4912 16th Avenue. As in previous years, there will be a designated area for women across the street. To accommodate the ever-growing crowds, there will be even more cold drinks and light refreshments prepared this year. Everyone will also have the opportunity to light candles in honor of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose light spread throughout the world through the Torah he taught.
The bonfire and dancing are meant to recreate the sublime atmosphere of unbounded joy and spiritual elevation experienced by all who attend Lag B’Omer in Meron. One man who traveled to Meron many times for Lag B’Omer was disappointed when he was forced to remain in America one year. After attending the dancing at Niklesburg he reported excitedly that he found the experience just as uplifting, albeit on a smaller scale. That intense feeling of sublime joy draws a crowd of thousands each year, some even arriving from upstate to participate. For many, the cheer and friendliness that prevail at the Niklesburg Lag B’Omer event is something they look forward to throughout the year.
The annual festivities had their humble beginning approximately 10 years ago when Rabbi Jungreis stepped out of the Beis Medrash with a few of his devoted followers and began dancing on the sidewalk. Passersby who were attracted by the lively dancing and singing joined in, and slowly the crowd grew. The following year more people joined and since then the gathering has expanded with each passing year.
The growth of the Lag B’Omer celebration mirrors the Rebbe’s success in reviving the Woodbourne shul for the summer vacation season. Beginning with a sign that announced “All Are Welcome,” he now presides over a phenomenon that draws tens of thousands of people throughout the summer each year. In fact, the Rebbe spent considerable over the past year overseeing upgrades and other details to ensure the shul will again be ready to accommodate the summer crowds.
The gala Lag B’Omer event features the Rebbe lighting a large bonfire in the middle of the street. He leads the crowd in singing moving zemiros in addition to the standard Lag B’Omer melodies. The dancing stretches for a block or more as the streets are closed off to traffic, while live music creates the backdrop for the dancing. The jovial atmosphere draws in all who attend; at Niklesburg everyone is at home.
Last year the festivities included a long line of people who passed by single-file as the Rebbe dispensed cups of the finest olive oil to all. Everyone had the opportunity to participate by pouring oil onto the pyre, so that the resultant bonfire radiated and pulsated with achdus. The explosive growth of the crowd required the last-minute addition of more barricades as an extra block was closed off to accommodate the dancing.
At the center of the celebration, of course, the Niklesburg Rebbe shlit”a greets everyone with his trademark warmth and openness that have made his Beis Medrash, the “Jungreis Chesed Center,” a second home to so many. The Rebbe does not think twice about removing his shtreimel and placing it on the head of a bachur who is struggling in finding his shidduch, as he dances with the boy and showers him with blessings that find his basherte soon.
This year Boro Park will again enjoy “a taste of Meron in New York” as the community joins Niklesurg in rejoicing in the hilula of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The full program begins with a mass public Sefiras HaOmer after Maariv and will again include the public hadlakah, live music and hours of joyous dancing. Those who wish will have the opportunity to add olive oil to the bonfire in honor of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.