I was never an Israeli child so I’ll likely never get this.

Lag B’Omer. I’m leveling with you: as an adult olah, I will probably never ever understand fully the appeal and utter dismissal for environmental health and safety that is this 33rd day of the counting of the Omer… in Israel.

Until this morning I couldn’t for the life of me remember what we Americanos did as kids in school on Lag Ba’Omer. It’s like the memories just weren’t important enough to hold on to. Maybe that’s sad in itself. But after being reminded, it flooded back: the whole school going to a big nature reserve nearby, to sprawl out with packed lunches, frisbees, kickballs, hula hoops, general running around and being kids enjoying the grass, trees, blue skies… Turning it into some kind of Jewishly-oriented environmental appreciation day.

FYI, I have some fond memories and a healthy dose of reality in remembering my rabbis and Lakewood-y teachers getting down with nature.

Here, perhaps it’s more memorable – as the kids seem to have a blast – but at what cost? Why does everyone need to make their own bonfires? Couldn’t it be communal? Why must we do it at all? Why isn’t better fire safety taught? Where’s the environmental appreciation in burning anything you can find and watching your yishuv from under a smoky haze?

Why is it a day off from school instead of a learning opportunity? Couldn’t our kids be brought to local nature reserves? Gather inside a cave, simulate the religious-historical  experience? Hell, learn about cave survival?

Point is, the odd/mystical/violent/depressing background to the holiday may be a lot for kids. Then let’s reframe it. Make it educational… and fun. Not destructive.

Because I gotta say, whatever the religious significance of Lag B’Omer – and it’s been totally lost on me from under this insulting black cloud – it can’t possibly be to disregard our beloved surroundings, the land we’ve yearned for, for so long.

That said… Sigh. Here’s my own little Israeli child enjoying his gan’s celebration the day before.

Another one bites the smoke.


8 responses to “I was never an Israeli child so I’ll likely never get this.”

  1. Moish Avatar

    It’s a bonfire not a nuclear power plant. get over it.

    1. Liz Avatar

      Come on down to where I live next year and open the windows and watch the haze move over my building. It stinks, it’s unhealthy, most of the time it’s unsafe. It can be controlled and still enjoyable.
      And I hear similar things from a lot of other areas… It’s disrespecting nature and our land. I don’t see how that’s something to just ‘get over.’

  2. Faluchka Avatar

    I completely agree with you Liz. But I guess it’s all relative. It’s not just on Lag B’Omer that Israelis have no regard for the environment. Since I also never was an Israeli child, I am not sure I will ever understand unwrapping your ice cream and throwing the wrapper on the ground, finishing your Coke and throwing the bottle on the ground, going on a hike in pristine desert and throwing your aluminum foil on the ground…

    1. Liz Avatar

      Definitely relative. This time of year I always get a little uneasy about it.

  3. Queerio Avatar

    First of all, the environmental Holliday is TuBeshvat. Second, Israelis are out in nature WAY more than Americans are, have more of a connection with the land… While fire safety is an important lesson, lag b’omer is a favorite holiday because it is a time when not everything is controlled, it is families together, towns together, in ways that don’t happen the rest of the year. Leave it be. Or go home.

    1. Liz Avatar

      First of all, I *am* home :)

      Secondly, I appreciate that it’s an important favorite childhood-nostalgia-inducing holiday. I do. I’m not being cheeky in the title. I’ll come to learn it through my kids. That’s part of joining and having kids in a new country and culture.

      However, I don’t think that lets us all off the hook when it comes to responsibility. Last year I watched as kids literally started a fire and failed at keeping it contained in a forest on a hill across the street from my house. They ran as quick as they could while we called for help and the trees went up in flames. I see kids collecting styrofoam to burn in bonfires.

      As a member of this country now, whether you like it or not, I do care and I feel free to express it.

  4. Hadassa Avatar

    The lack of fire safety concerns me much more than the actual bonfires. It’s a once a year tradition and many of the people participating in bonfires aren’t going to be barbecuing during the summer so unless there’s going to be a call for a ban on barbecues, we should let the tradition be – but improve safety, ensure that no plastic (old broken chairs for example) is thrown into the fire, etc.
    Schools are going to be having their end of year trips soon so this isn’t a good time to add a trip to the schedule. For anyone not aware of the logistics in Israel, a school trip out in the environment involves permits, a certified medic and in many areas one or two armed guards in addition to other chaperones so it’s not just a matter of a day off from school. However neighborhoods/communities could arrange trips, and a field trip instead of a bonfire is certainly a valid way of celebrating the day.

  5. Benji Lovitt Avatar

    Anonymous people who tell you to go home probably just have personality issues to work out. You are awesome, Liz.

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