The Little Drummer Boy

Thursday, 7 May, 2015 - 4:57 pm

Lag B’omer is celebrated in very special ways all over the world. The Rebbe first introduced the concept of a Lag B’omer parade in the 1940s and 1950s as a way of enhancing Jewish pride while celebrating the great sages associated with Lag B’omer, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Over the years (mostly when Lag B’omer fell on a Sunday) big parades were staged on Eastern Parkway (a major Brooklyn thoroughfare on which Chabad HQ – 770 – is located). Thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of Jewish children and their parents, teachers etc. would rally and then march in honor of Lag B’omer. (See a collage of photos here

The students of the Yeshivas and girl’s schools would create and build elaborate floats with various Jewish themes. Marching bands would perform. After hearing the Rebbe speak, the highlight of the event was the chance for each child to march past the Rebbe during the actual parade.

A majestic viewing platform would be built by the chassidim (they would not give this privilege to paid workers), from which the Rebbe would address the assembled, then view the parade and interact with the thousands of marchers. The US military and NYPD would send honor guards and marching bands to participate. One year a Jewish organization commissioned a skywriter to fly over the parade and write “a salute to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.” (That was way before the skywriting of JazzFest 2015.)

The Lag B’Omer parade was unique. The Rebbe would enter as the band played Ani Maamin. The Rebbe’s talks at the parades were of a different nature. There was always a grand sense about them. The message was being carried further and broader than usual. In 1967, just a few days before the six day war, the Rebbe declared that a miracle would occur and Israel would be successful. In the 1970s the Rebbe spoke in Russian, addressing the Soviet government and their treatment of Jews.

I had the opportunity to be present at one parade – Lag B’omer 1987. My class was selected to be the marching band for that year’s parade. It meant marching and performing in front of the Rebbe.  I was given the role playing the base drum. We were all excited and also anxious. We were all decked out in our marching band uniforms. Ours was the first performance after the Rebbe’s talk and the military presentation. We marched right up to the Rebbe’s viewing stand and did a full presentation. Then we saluted and declared our wishes to the Rebbe for a long and healthy life. The Rebbe clapped to our beat and we were on our way. drumming lag baomer.jpg
You can see a photo of this event at

There is an expression “a moment frozen in time.” That moment that we had standing in front the Rebbe as 13 year olds and the Rebbe clapping to our drumming is frozen in time for me. It also felt like it took forever. In the moment itself one loses a sense that there are thousands of people watching (and tuning in by satellite TV from all over the world). It was just us and the Rebbe. My children have seen the photos and the videos and think it’s cool. But it is nearly impossible to convey the awesomeness (the proper definition of awesome) of that experience.

Happy Lag B’omer and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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