holiday, Jewish holiday, Lag B'Omer, Lag B'Omer in Israel, Zionism

A Shocking Turn of Events: Why I’ve Come to Enjoy Lag B’Omer

Now that we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Lag B’Omer fires are over (well, we can’t really breathe this morning, but you get what I mean), it’s time for some reflection. I usually really dislike this holiday. I would say hate, but I’m probably not supposed to say hate about a holiday. There isn’t too much to like as a parent. You send your kids out to a fire where they dance around, get splinters, eat too many hotdogs and refuse to come home. When they do finally come home, they have left trash all over our beautiful land, they’ve burned the ground and they’ve returned as stinky as a small skunk.

And that’s if they have friends with whom to do the fire. If they aren’t yet in Bnei Akiva or they aren’t old enough for their own fire, then you are left in charge.

What’s to like?

This year, for the first time, I started to see that there is something to like about the Lag B’Omer fires. It has been quite nice for me to find a way to enjoy the holiday and the surrounding pyrofest. 

Here is what I’ve learned.

Josh pointed out last night that there are two special things about Lag B’Omer, neither of which I had ever considered. He called it the “only truly Zionist holiday” since it’s observed with such fervor in Israel, but is a barely visible blip on the calendar in the rest of the world. In tandem with this, it’s the only truly non-denominational holiday that we have.

Let me explain.

Almost every child in Israel celebrates Lag B’Omer and this includes the most Haredi to the most secular. Show me another holiday during the year where this is the case. Even Yom Ha’azmaut isn’t celebrated as widely, and certainly the religious holidays aren’t observed by as many kids.  While there are obviously some bonfires around the world (my friend took a picture of herself at one in Cyprus last night!), it’s not a broadly celebrated holiday outside of Israel.

This is what makes it unique and interesting.

Even more so, my children spend weeks – literally weeks – gathering wood and setting up for their bonfires.   This means that, in the weeks before Lag B’Omer, they are outside all afternoon and into the evening with their friends. They are being social, active, productive (in a way) and entertained.

Last minute wood collection before the fun begins!
Thankfully, our kids lead active, social lives but even they enjoy watching TV and playing with the computer. But when they are preparing for Lag B’Omer, they aren’t sitting inside on a computer screen.

In today’s anti-social world filled with screens and ‘friends’ through social media,  these activities have real value.

Hopefully, during their wood gathering, they are also learning what it means not to steal, how to avoid scratching cars, how to make sure they include everyone and other lessons.

On the night of Lag B’Omer, they learn about team work as they set the fire up together with their friends and divide up the food needs for the evening. And then they spend the evening singing songs, sitting around the fire, laughing and talking.

My littlest guy with his best friends at their small fire.
This morning Josh and I went out for a very early morning walk and we came across our older boys as they were wrapping up their fires. It is definitely a weird feeling to see your children out in the morning light, when you’re starting your day and they’re finishing theirs.

What I saw, however, made me quite proud. They were cleaning up the area with over a dozen bags of trash. They were safely putting out the fires and carefully making sure that everything was finished and cleared.  When they finished, they were headed off in their stinky clothes and soot-covered faces to shul to daven the morning prayers.

In a world where so many kids feel isolated, where they are bored, and where they spend day and night on electronic devices, I’ll take Lag B’Omer.

Because these are the memories that will last them a lifetime and that allow them to feel like they are part of something special, unique and fun…in their Land.

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