Lag B’Omer: the Jewish holiday of bonfires and marshmallows!
This week is Lag B’Omer in Israel
This is a Jewish holiday celebrated annually on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer (which is the 49 day period between Passover and Shavuot in the Jewish calendar, which according to the Torah all Jews are supposed to count passionately).
If you land in Israel on or just before this holiday starts, you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole country is on fire! There are small bonfires everywhere, with a definite smoky haze polluting the atmosphere for a few hours – we dread to think what it looks like from space 🙂
It’s a lot of fun for the children, as they typically prepare days in advance by collecting whatever wood (and anything else that burns!) they can, and storing it until the magic night. The older kids will often organize their own bonfire, while the smaller kids will often have organized – and supervised – events. Expect to see plenty of hot dogs, potatoes wrapped in silver foil, and marshmallows! These first Lag B’Omer bonfires are where, of course, the next generation of barbecue experts are born (Israelis are well-known for their love of BBQ cooking)…
This Counting of the Omer period is actually a period of mourning for the more religiously observant Jews, and weddings, parties, dinners with dancing, and even haircuts are not permitted. Lag B’Omer is eagerly anticipated by many, as it is actually a small holiday during this seven week mourning period, when partying and celebration is allowed.
This day also marks the time when Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century and only one of five of Rabbi Akiva’s pupils that survived a terrifying plague, revealed the long-hidden secrets of the kabbalah in the form of the Zohar (or Book of Splendor), a founding literary work in the field of Jewish mystical thought.
The place to be for the religiously observant is Meron in the Galilee, near to the mystical town of Safed. The whole area is swamped with many thousands of Jews, who all come to celebrate at the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Eleazar. They gather through the night and day (some even arrive days earlier) to celebrate with bonfires, torches, song and feasting. This was a specific request by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai of his students.
Why all the bonfires?
Well, many believe that as bar Yochai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar, bonfires are lit as a symbol of his enlightening the world. As his passing left such a “light” behind, many candles and/or bonfires are lit.
Just so you know, Meron and nearby Safed are magical places to visit – just not on Lag B’Omer!
Happy Lag B’Omer!
Boaz’s Lag B’Omer Insight
Lag B’Omer – the time for bonfires and marshmallows! It really is a special holiday, for observant and secular Jews, who both get to enjoy the magic of bonfires. We won’t promise you a Meron experience during Lag B’Omer (unless you want to get stuck in traffic for hours!), but we can ensure you enjoy your Holy Land experience with marshmallows and baked potatoes at a quieter, more cultured location!