Boro Park—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 begin at 10:30 PM on Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Emor, night of May 13th in front of the shul at 4912 16th Avenue. As in previous years, there will be a designated area for women across the street. NYPD has promised that there will be extra security. This year there will also be a full band playing, along with live singers and an expanded sound system for everyone to hear.
In the Niklesburg tradition no one is left out, so you can be sure the event will be kid-friendly. There will be tons of popcorn and cotton candy, not to mention the usual cold drinks and light refreshments. 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 recreate the sublime atmosphere of unbridled 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 a few years ago. After attending the dancing at Niklesburg he reported excitedly that he experienced the same joy and kedusha, 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. Many participants freely admit that they look forward all year to the cheer and friendliness that prevail at the Niklesburg Lag B’Omer event. It is also a great kidush Hashem. Each year the Niklesburg Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis shlit”a, publicly thanks the police presence over the PA for providing security and crowd control. And each year the police tell him again, “Of all the celebrations we oversee, this one is always the happiest and most orderly.”
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 were attracted by the lively dancing and singing and joined in, and slowly the crowd grew. The following year more people joined and since then the gathering has expanded with each passing year. In previous years 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.
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 the traditional zemiros and Lag B’Omer melodies. The dancing stretches for a block or more and 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.
As in the past two years, this year’s festivities will begin with a long line of people passing by single-file as the Rebbe dispenses hundreds of cups of the finest quality olive oil to all. Everyone has the opportunity to participate by pouring oil onto the pyre, so that the resultant bonfire radiates and pulsates with achdus.
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 to find his shiduch as he dances with the boy and showers him with blessings that he meet 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.
Be sure to stop and greet the Rebbe shlit”a and receive his blessings!