Tonight Jews everywhere (but especially in Israel) celebrate the minor Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer (literally: “33 [days] into the Omer”, i.e. 18 Iyar). Originally, the holiday marked an event that happened around 120 CE in Roman-occupied Judea:
“In the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, a plague decimated 24,000 students of the great sage Rabbi Akiva–a result, says the Talmud, of the fact that they “did not respect one another.” The plague’s cessation on Iyar 18–the 33rd day of the Omer Count or “Lag BaOmer”–is one of the reasons that the day is celebrated each year.” [Wikipedia]
In Israel, children and adults starts bonfires on that day, often holding barbecues and/or potato roasting over them. Also, a great number of couples get married on that day, as the day interrupts (for Sephardim: ends) the “blackout period” for marriages that follows Passover. (For Ashkenazim, it resumes until Shavuot.)
A number of other historical events took place on the day [view historical and future secular dates here]. On Lag BaOmer in 1948, for example, the Hurva synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem was destroyed, while on the very same day, the Haganah and a few other pre-state Jewish defense forces were formally merged into the IDF.
To me, the ultimate “end of a plague”, however, took place in 1945 — and by coincidence, the secular dates nearly coincide this year.
There is a hoary Jewish joke about the belief in clairvoyance of Hitler (y”sh). Upon being told that a Jewish seer predicted he would die on a Jewish holiday, he had the clairvoyant arrested and asked which Jewish holiday. The answer: “any day on which you die will be a Jewish holiday”. To be called Yom mavet haMamzer? 🙂
As it happened, on the eve of Lag BaOmer 5705 (April 30, 1945), the Amalek of that generation took his own life in his bunker in Berlin. On the next day, May 1, 1945 and Lag BaOmer 5705 itself, having been Chancellor of Nazi Germany for one day, the “Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda” and his wife followed him into the grave after murdering their children. These events happened after a last-minute offer of conditional surrender was turned down by Soviet general Chuikov. Following a breakout attempt by part of the remaining defenders, the city finally capitulated the next day, May 2, 1945. By coincidence, there is a Sephardic tradition (unfamiliar to most Ashkenazi Jews like myself) of marking the next day, Lad BaOmer, as a holiday.
Lag BaOmer sameach!