Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bonfire of the Humanities - Rhymes with Vanities

Lag B'Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer) - not your American-style Lag B'Omer with polite, sedate BBQs, baseball and basketball games in the park. No, here in Israel it starts with huge, raging bonfires everywhere as soon as the day begins (At sunset, as all days do in the Jewish calendar, but since the 32nd was Shabbos, it took a while for things to get wound up.) It seemed that everywhere you looked there were bonfires, families and students gathered to spend the night (the entire night) feeding the flames and celebrating. During the early part of the evening the lone volunteer fire truck in Mitzpe Ramon made the rounds of the bonfires to make sure all was safe.

Sparks fly from Lag B'Omer bonfires in Mitzpe Ramon

In addition to commemorating the end of the plague that killed 24,000 of Rebbe Akiva's students, Lag B'Omer also commemorates the yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, the principle text of Kabbalah. So great was the light that shone from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's death bed, because of the secrets of the Torah he revealed that day, that it is said that those present could not behold him because of the dazzling light. This is one of the reasons that great bonfires are lit on Lag B'Omer. Sephardic Jews celebrate the yahrzeit with a Hillula, a great festive feast and party. The main Sephardic shul in Mitzpe Ramon was the site of this celebration last night. We stopped by to participate for a short time. I love the Sephardim. Everything they do is over the top!

Hillula celebration at the main sephardic shul in Mitzpe Ramon on Lag B'Omer

Of course, there were bonfires on the rim of the Machtesh, with a spooky, nearly full moon rising into the sky.
Lag B'Omer bonfires at the edge of the Machtesh

In Israel it is customary to visit the burial site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi on Mt. Meron in the north of the country. This year, 500,000 people showed up, or nearly 7% of the population!

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