In the past few years, the day after Lag BaOmer has coincidentally led to nationwide forest fires. Can we make a connection between these two events or are we to continue to bury our heads in the sand? Burying our heads in the sand is probably more comfortable as we won’t get smoke in our eyes and it’s cooler down there, but I think there is a fundamental issue with this holiday and it needs to be changed.
I write this blog after knowing that my yishuv, Yad Binyamin, graciously hosted hundreds of people from Mevo Modin this Shabbat. They have been displaced and left homeless after their Moshav burnt down to the ground on Thursday. This comes the day after Lag BaOmer and in the midst of a heat wave. I have heard many people saying that one thing has nothing to do with another. It’s simply a heat wave. Bad luck. Nothing could be done about it. So sad.
I, however, think that there is a fundamental connection. When you burn fires all over the country, you trap smog and smoke in the atmosphere which increases the already hot and humid temperatures in a heat wave. Fires should have been banned everywhere to avoid the temperature increase. I also read that a JNF spokesman spent the night patrolling the forest telling people to put out their fires. Why is this acceptable? All for the sake of children having fun, we let it be okay to burn down an entire town?
I understand that this year, there was a clamp down on fires but I dont think it was enough. A friend of mine came back to our yishuv at night and said it looked like Armageddon, huge blazing fires shooting sparks everywhere surrounded by singing and laughing children. What a site of joy that should evoke feelings of togetherness. How anglo of me for dampening the growing flames with my bad attitude. Boycotting Lag BaOmer, can give you the reputation of quite the scrooge, but after living in Israel for 14 years I still cannot fathom the lack of safety measures and the complete abandonment of any sense of boundaries. It has gotten out of hand and now we have a town burnt to the ground and huge swathes of wild life and our main Forest lung, a charred black waste land of ashes. I cannot sit back and pretend that this holiday had nothing to do with these fires.
A friend of mine who lives in Modin, said she went walking her dogs in the fields around there the day after and there were hundreds of fire pits set up by teenagers who feel that they are entitled to this sacred night of fun. She said she was surprised there weren’t more wildfires to put out.
There needs to be a fundamental change in attitude and laws. This is an environmental disaster and it could have been prevented. I watched for weeks as kids dragged pallets, furniture and wood to build towering infernos across the street from me. When will we put our hands up and say this has gotten completely out of control and needs to be banned. As our chief Rabbi said, there is no mitzvah to light a bonfire on Lag BaOmer. It is a custom at best. I don’t light bonfires on Lag BaOmer, and I hope next year you will make the sensible, moral and environmental choice and refrain from lighting bonfires. Your choice has consequences.