A festive Lag Ba'omer parade took place Tuesday evening in downtown Budapest, Hungary, with over 50 vehicles traveling the city streets in a convoy and playing joyous music. Signs with slogans were posted on the vehicles to show support for the medical teams and to encourage residents who are in quarantine.
In light of the cancellation of Lag Ba'omer events, which include gathering and bonfires hosted by the 'EMIH' - Hungarian Jewish Community Association led by Rabbi Shlomo Koves in Budapest, It was decided to hold the celebration of the day in a way that would maintain the necessary precautions and distance rules of the coronavirus epidemic.
As such, a caravan traveled on the main streets of Budapest. The festive procession passed through the city's Heroes Square (Hosek Tere), ride through one of the most famous boulevards in Budapest, Andrássy street and proceeded to the Dohany Street Synagogue, Keren-Or Chabad Israeli Center, and Zsilip Synagogue near Margit bridge with the final point at the Obuda Synagogue, the synagogue headed by Rabbi Shlomo Koves, the convoy organizer. Passengers crossed the Danube River, and throughout the trip, exiting the vehicles was prohibited, in order to maximize public safety and out of concern for the participants.
The various vehicles were decorated with signs seeking to encourage the public at this difficult time of the coronavirus crisis, as well as to support the medical teams for their great work in the traditional spirit of the Lag Baomer festival, which itself is connected to the ending of a deadly epidemic within the students of Rabbi Akiva, according to the Talmudic tradition.
Among others, the signs read, "To love your fellow is the most basic principle," "There is no despair in the world at all," and "Continue to smile and others will smile after you." The many participants who did not light the Lag Ba'omer bonfire this year received a symbolic BBQ kit at the end of the event.
The state of Hungary ranks third from the bottom in the list for the total number of people infected by the coronavirus in Europe, thanks to early and comprehensive action to prevent its spread. A total of 3,313 infectious cases were discovered in the state and 425 died, according to the state's official update Wednesday morning. Most of the infections, 60%, are from the city of Budapest or from Pest County, the district that surrounds the capital.
During the outbreak, the EMIH community is operating a number of services for the Jewish community and in general. Every day since the quarantine, 1,500 hot meals are divided at two distribution points downtown. In addition, 500 food packages are distributed once a month to families in need, in coordination with welfare services. All Jewish synagogues and schools are closed, in accordance with the instructions, and the various rabbis continue to teach classes to the public through online means.
Rabbi Shlomo Koves sought to strengthen the participants of the procession and said: "Lag Ba'omer is a holiday of hope during a difficult time of an ancient epidemic. Today, when we face challenges of the coronavirus, we can somewhat better understand what the epidemic of the pupils of Rabbi Akiva had meant 2000 years ago, killing 24.000 of them. During this period, when we are broken apart from each other in the physical sense, it is especially important to strength the message of the neighborly love and human dignity, principals that are like light posts in times of darkness."
EMIH, the Hungarian Jewish Community Association affiliated with the Chabad movement, promotes Jewish life in the country and invests in education and culture. As part of this mission, it operates educational institutions and is actively involved in charitable activities, running countless social, cultural, and educational programs across the state. About 100,000 Jews currently live in Hungary, making it the third-largest Jewish community in Europe. 95% of the Jews live in Budapest. Jews make up about 5% of the city's population, making Budapest the "most Jewish" capital in Europe.