by the Forward

Bah humbug, it’s Lag B’Omer.

I’m usually game for Israel’s national and religious holidays, eating the correct patisserie items on the correct days (honey and cheese cake on Rosh Hashanah and Shavuot respectively), sweating in a succah on Succot, and even finding a certain comfort in the melancholy of the Fast of Av.

But I’m a Lag B’Omer Scrooge.

And here’s why. Every festival has good traditions apart from this one, which has two common customs: lawless scavenging and superstition.

Jewish children across Israel, religious and secular, have filled the skies with smoke with their traditional bonfires. And for the days before Lag B’Omer, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is a temporary suspension of the laws of theft in the State of Israel where wooden items are concerned. If it’s not screwed and bolted down, it’s seen by some as fair game. Well brought up children who would never dream or of taking what isn’t theirs most of the year can be seen gathering up burnable items which aren’t exactly theirs. Damage is wrought in forests; palettes on building sites grow legs.

And many of them light up without the necessary precautions. Several fires have gotten out of hand this year.

And then there’s the superstition. Lag B’Omer is the purported death anniversary of Shimon Bar Yochai, who is famous for two main things. Firstly, with little doubt, he was one of the great sages of the Mishna, the key text of early rabbinic tradition. Secondly he is claimed, though most academic scholars doubt this, to have authored the Zohar, the main work of Jewish mysticism which didn’t surface for more than a millennia after he died. His first achievement is ignored today, the second part of his “bio” is embraced and exploited.

Half a million Israelis flock to a Galilee hilltop where he is said to be buried, Mount Meron. Fair enough if they are into that kind of thing, but this homage has spurned a complex fundraising operations for numerous charities. My phone has been ringing all week with numerous offers of prayers said for me at the grave which will be sure to prompt miracles, all miracles in return for donations ahead of this “holy” day.

Perhaps I should have tried it. I’d like a magical Father Lag B’Omer delivering legally acquired smokeless firewood for every child in Israel please. Now that would be a miracle worth paying for.


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