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Tens of Thousands March in Crown Heights 60th Anniversary Lag B'Omer Parade

By Sonja Sharp | April 29, 2013 9:48am

CROWN HEIGHTS — Some come for the fire. Some come for the sweets. Some mark the day with their first haircut, but few children in Crown Heights would miss Sunday's festival of Lag B'Omer, a holiday with ancient resonance but just one rule — fun in the sun. 

"Happiness — that's key," said spectator Shalom Nagar, 27, who along with his son Meyer, two and a half, was among an estimated 15,000 observers at Sunday's Great Parade, marking the 60th anniversary of the first such parade in Crown Heights. 

While obscure to most Americans, the holiday of face paint and first haircuts, bonfires and bows and arrows is wildly popular among Israelis, the Orthodox, and Hasidic Jews in particular. Although it marks the death anniversary of a venerated 2nd century rabbi and mystic, all mourning is suspended for the day and normally studious children are urged outside to play.

"It's a day to go out into the field," said organizer Shea Hecht. "We're city boys, but it's a day that we close our books and try to promote love of our fellow Jews."

Unlike the festivals of Passover and Shavuot that bookend it, there are no canonical texts to study and no special dietary restrictions to follow — though barbecue is preferred.

"It's really special," Nagar said. "I was here as a little kid, just like this."