Lag B’Omer in Israel
Join me on a tour of my neighborhood in Israel as I witness the local children light the local park on fire.
On Lag B’Omer, we celebrate the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (known as the Rashbi), who is known for having revealed the Kabbalah to us. We call this celebration a “Heelulah” (a day of joy) as a rabbi’s death signals his reaching the culmination of his teachings, actions and deeds. Rashbi’s Heelulah is a huge celebration throughout Israel and for some reason, we rejoice with bonfires. Here is my advice on how to celebrate a Heelulah based on what I have witnessed in my own neighborhood.
Making The Bonfire
Due to the light Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought to the world by revealing the mystical layer of the Torah, the Yahrzeit candle is not big enough. Instead, we have the children go out and make huge fires without parental supervision.
Collecting the Wood
The kids of Israel collect anything they can find that burns. This includes trees, branches, and homes. The children take their wood collection very seriously so, hide all inanimate objects. This includes houses, plastic and older people.
A word of caution: there is a fine line between a child’s understanding of paying respects to the Rashbi and religious vigilantism. The children will burn everything. Stand by your door. Let them know it belongs to your house. If you are not around for Lag B’Omer, hire a neighbor to make sure they do not burn down your home.
Heelulah of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai on Lag B’Omer with the kids in my neighborhood. That’s me in the corner.
Bringing Your Flammables to the Park in Israel
In Israel, last Lag B’Omer, I learned that supermarket carts only cost 5 shekel. If you put the 5 NIS in the cart, it is yours. The children put the 5 NIS in the cart and then take the cart and load it with wood. If you pile it correctly over the sides, and take up both sides of the street, you can push a good amount of the wood in your neighbor’s home in one trip. Bypassing the use of the parent’s car allows the child to up the ante and burn appliances.
What Happens at the Fire
There are many ways to use a fire. Most of them are dangerous. I suggest just watching it or eating marshmallows. But do not stick the marshmallows into the fire. That is a good way to burn yourself, or your friends.
The kids in my neighborhood didn’t seem concerned about fire safety. They were running around the fire and throwing stuff into it, most of it highly flammable. That reminds me. I forgot to add another item that is flammable; deodorant. Do not worry. The parents are not to blame for exploding aerosol containers. After all, the parents weren’t there to see it.
If you cannot make it to Israel, to fully connect with the tradition, make sure your fire is uncontained. In Israel, it is fine to make uncontained fires in the park. Your town might have silly things like protections against forest fires. If that is the case, take a couple of rocks and tell them it is contained.
Playing a guitar is another bonfire experience. People see fires and play guitars. It’s automatic. Nobody played guitar in my neighborhood last year though. Maybe that’s because the kids threw it in the fire.
Bows & Arrows
Bereishit Rabba (35:2) says that not a single rainbow appeared in the sky during the lifetime of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. As the shooting of an arrow represent a rainbow, there is a tradition for the children to go out and play with bows and arrows. Or perhaps it’s just to add to the danger of the uncontained fires.
If you cannot make it to Israel, where children are allowed to carry weapons on Lag B’Omer, I suggest that your children do not run around the streets with bows and arrows. Walking the streets of your city armed, and leaving your children with uncontained fires might not be legal. Cops in America may not be as forgiving as they are in Israel. For this reason, I would recommend that your children should use the bows and arrows in the house. Or whatever is left of your home after the bonfire.
One last piece of advice: if for whatever reason, the cops find your children on the streets with bows and arrows, I recommend that you dispose of the evidence immediately and throw them into the bonfire. The bows and arrows, I mean.