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.


Ira Skop said...

Your comment about your school Lag Ba'Omer experience reminds me of my mother's. The Solomon Schechter school at which she taught scheduled a similar park outing each year. To her, it was a day of chasing after unruly kids. She prayed for rain each year and was often obliged, even on the rain date. Those were her best Lag Ba'Omers.

lisa k said...

My recollection is that it always rained on Lag Ba'omer, and our scheduled outings to Cunningham Park or Kissena Park would be canceled. Who knew the teachers were praying for rain?