Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lag B'Omer 2013 - Bonfires Everywhere!

Lag B'Omer Tali School Ra'anana April 26 2013
Saturday night marked the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer - the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer in Israel, the counting of which culminates in the holiday of Shavuot which begins on the 50th day. 

Traditionally, observant Jews have marked Lag B'Omer by celebrating and gathering for large bonfires.  The holiday commemorates the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a 2nd century disciple of Rabbi Akiva.  It also marks the revolt by Bar Kokhba and his followers against the Roman empire.

In Israel, Lag B'Omer is one of the favourite holidays of the year for kids.  Teenagers and younger kids (and many older "kids" as well) across the country gather wood in the weeks leading up to Lag B'Omer in preparation for the huge bonfires that they create on the evening of Lag B'Omer. 

For many 14-18 year olds, this is one of the prime social events of the year.  In Ra'anana, there were bonfires being held across the city.  Groups of teenagers, sometimes as many as hundreds of kids, get together, with six or seven charcoal barbecues, enough wood to keep a fire burning all night - and plenty of excitement (and maybe some other refreshments) and hold bonfires across the country.  No adult supevision required.  No adults anywhere in the vicinity - except maybe the odd Ra'anana security official checking up to see that everything is in order (whatever that means).  The kids run the bonfire, run the barbecues, buy and cook the meat, and even clean up afterwards.  Some arrange DJs, some just bring their own music.

For the younger kids, the bonfires are more closely supervised.  The photo above was taken at the Tali school in Ra'anana, which was holding its bonfire for 6 to 12 year olds (grades 1-6) and their  parents.  There was a DJ with dancing and prizes, karaoke, some group singing led by the school music teacher and food for everyone, organized by class.  The bonfire was huge but it was carefully controlled and kids maintained a proper distance.

Here is a view of the set up for the bonfire - before it was lit.  You can see the school in the background.  This was an opportunity for Tali families to socialize across the class and grade divisions.  

Lag B'Omer is quite a fun and exciting holiday in Israel.  The spirit of the holiday spreads across the country as does the smoke from all of those massive fires.  Even the newspapers got into it.  Yedioth Achronot ran a political cartoon which featured a picture of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sarah sitting at a bonfire by themselves.  Someone asks "where is everyone?."  Someone else answers "they are all at Yair Lapid's bonfire" and there is another picture of Finance Minister Yair Lapid with a huge number of people  - dancing, singing and looking happy at a bonfire.  Quite a telling political cartoon.

Although Lag B'Omer is not a "chag" (a Jewish holiday on which work is forbidden), Israeli kids still get two days off school.  One day to prepare for the bonfires - and one day to recover from being up all night...I suppose the second day is also a day to allow all the smoke to clear.

It is a really quite a unique celebration - and one that is probably hard to imagine in most other countries.

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