Monday, May 26, 2008

Lag Ba'omer

I always have blog thoughts. Usually, they are prompted by a story of Ira's, the kids, or something that happens to me during the course of the day/week here. Of course, without writing these profundities immediately down, they slip from my memory and I'm left yet again without a major topic about which to blog.

Thing is, I recognize that life has settled down in its way and aside from funny Israeli moments, of which there continue to be many - and always will, I imagine - things seem surprisingly normal. Natan continues to muscle his way through his adjustment here, coping with his developing life here - theater work, looking for a choir, piano, Japanese studies, friendships that are more comfortable this year...he even went willingly to a Lag Ba'omer bonfire this year. Lag Ba'omer is sort of like Guy Fawkes day, Israeli style, without the effigy. I'll let you read up on both on your own, except for this note on the celebrations.

"The most well-known custom of Lag Ba'Omer is the lighting of bonfires. Some say that as bar Yohai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar, bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings. It is also Jewish custom to light a candle in honour of the deceased on the day of the Yahrzeit. As his passing left such a 'light' behind, many candles and/or bonfires are lit. The Bnei Yissoschor cites another reason for the lighting of bonfires. On the day of his death Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said "Now, it's my desire to reveal secrets...The day will not go to its place like any other, for this entire day stands within my domain..." Daylight was miraculously extended until Rabbi Shimon had completed his final teaching and passed away. This symbolized that all light is subservient to spiritual light, an particularly to the primeval light contained within the mystical teachings of the Torah. As such, the custom of lighting fires symbolizes this revelation of powerful light."

What this means is that bonfires are lit up all over town - many are unsupervised, many are built (towering effigies of wood stuffs found all over town) w/o a lot of knowledge of fire maintenance skills and many are not properly put out. The night of LagB, one goes to bed with the acrid smell of smoke filtering through the house - this year, we were lucky that a brisk breeze was blowing that night and into the next morning which helped dissipate the smoke.

Gabe wanted to go off to a friend's house. He was pleased to have his own plans and such plans are indicative of how nicely he's doing this year - he likes the Democratic School, has made some nice friends (haven't met them all yet) and spends much of his time practicing his skateboard techniques. At first, he tells me that his friend lives in Nataf (in the J'lem Hills), that it will be a 'bayit reyk' (no parents around) and boys and girls together. After informing him that I wasn't comfortable with the unsupervised bonfire as well as the opposite sex, it turned out that it was just a private party of 4 guys and a fire. He had fun but later told me that next year he wants a bigger, mixed local gig like Natan's. Natan's is down the block a bit in a vacant lot that is reserved some hours in advance by those expecting to use the space. It's a group of girls and guys and some younger sibs and the occasional parent as well. Foodstuffs are roasted and eaten, songs are sung and much chatting occurs. Ira walked Akiva over for the festivities and they sat and ate a hot dog (Ira, that is) and enjoyed themselves. Akiva must have been prepped at school because on the way, Ira mentioned going to a campfire - Akiva answered 'מדורה, אסור להתקרב, מאוד חם.'
'Campfire, you're forbidden to get close, very hot.' So, there we have it.

Natan had a further adventure though that night. He went off to his second event at around midnight - remember when you had second events or even first events beginning at around 11 or so? He met up with friends near a park area behind the German Colorny and for those in the know, the Hartman Institute. There, for the next 4-5 hours, they put out unattended bonfires. Natan said they'd come upon a group of people with a large fire and inquire as to their water source for minding such a blaze - they'd be shown a coke bottle, or worse, nothing. They put out a fire that the fire-makers had stoked with styrofoam and they put out fires that had burned down and the fire-makers had gone but nobody had made sure that the embers were totally out. Natan related arguing with fire-makers who'd left the area and upon returning and finding their fire out argued - 'we were coming right back...' He returned home at about 8:00am, smelly, wet and tired. Gabe we didn't see until much later Friday afternoon as he went straight from his friends house to a baseball game. He's pitching these days and very pleased about it. As for Akiva, he went to school and talked about his campfire, the marshmallows (he never had any) and whom he saw there.

Ira's comment about his campfire experience - 'it was clean, old-fashioned fun (aside from the smoke and mess) in an Israeli style that you just don't ever see in America.' Lisa Smith described her campfire the same way - very lovely, about 150 people or so who came through at different times according to the ages of their kids (she was at a joint Moreshet Avraham/Mayanot campfire).

I remember Lag Ba'omer from my childhood - a scheduled school picnic in Hempstead Lake State Park (in later years Woodmere Park). Usually, we were rained out and rescheduled. We'd run around - in pants, no less, in those early years - make a fire and roast marshmallows and have a grand time.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


One other note from tonight. Bedtime will be late because all I hear from my house are the sounds of fireworks all over the city. The Grucci brothers would love it.
Shul was fun. I sat with Jess, Sarah and my mother, who also came for the experience. As we forded the passage between remembering those who've died and celebrating the country, regardless of the complications implicit, the place just started to rock - singing, dancing, bouncing and jumping (Shira Hadasha has a couple of jumpers). 400 people perhaps, singing, ready to move on the happy part. Ready to sing - they're always ready to sing there. To celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut - do hallel with musical instruments, pray the other elements of the Yom Ha'atz service - Shma and the other line from the end of Yom Kippur/Nielah, Shofar blowing and all. Pretty cool. I felt the feeling that I sometimes have here - that nobody had to be told how to do it, nobody needed to be given the page number, everyone was 'on the same page.' I know that seems unkind but it's how I felt. I felt that there was parity.
I never felt enough parity in Bklyn. I loved Bklyn and love my community but we were all so different in our viewpoints, religious desires and lives. Believe you me, there are plenty of differences in my views and my neighbors here but at least people know what to do and how to do it. I find that comforting - more than I would have expected.
Enough rambling. More to report tomorrow after we hopefully get to the flyby in Tel Aviv tomorrow. Boys claim to be excited. We'll see how it goes.

60th Bday

Almost hard to believe and yet, sitting here in my house - complete with elements of comfort unheard of in the early years of the State (read kitchen with real stove, walk-in closet which I didn't even have in Bklyn, etc) it isn't hard to believe. Israel often feels like other places in the world - a place of consumerism, of navel-gazism, of divides of wealth, of gated-communitiesm, and other 'isms that I'd hope to leave behind in the USofA. Still, it is a small place and when the country mourns, it's surprisingly together and when they celebrate, you feel the mood change as if you're all sitting in the same stadium.
I can't say that it's an easy celebration. Regardless of how you look a the founding of Israel, ashes of the Holocaust, yadda yadda and I don't take the post war period lightly, the fact remains that it ain't 1945 tomorrow and that the ideals that were present in that period are different. Israel remains a country entrenched - at least for some - in the post-war period but there are many to whom that doesn't resonate. Where do they think the state appeared from I'm not sure but certainly not out of the remnants who were not gassed in Auschwitz. For Jews from Sephardic countries their Israel is a Messianic one - which they preyed and hoped for all those years in the Diaspora. Not that Ashkenazic Jews didn't think that way either but it was different and WWII gave a different shading to everything that came after.
How do you celebrate when so much seems screwed up and weird. When your country is either enmeshed in political scandals, one right after the other, or an existential fight for emotional survival. Ahmedinajad aside - whatever he's going to do, he'll do - Israel's survival seems much more an issue of people's emotions and their desire for a different kind of life. One where people's children don't have to go off to be trained as soldiers and one where the country could focus on peace and normal life. To me I wonder why we can't just turn this thing around - learn how to make peace, how to develop a new paradigm, a new way of doing the 'peace business' and maybe find a way to show our neighbors that we mean it. I'm so tired of reading of our soldiers misbehaving on guard - of being obnoxious and abusive of their power - of our citizens showing contempt for fellow citizens - Gabe had that experience waiting for felafel recently where the Arab guy was kept waiting and waiting and waiting...I'm not naive, I just don't like the facts on the table and feel that new tables and new facts are needed.
Happy 60th.