Mordechai Weiss
One of Israel's foremost tour Guides.

Scratch Another One

As a young kid growing up in Southern Florida back in the ’60s I would always look forward to the annual Lag Baomer outing sponsored by my Jewish Day School, the Hebrew Academy of Greater Miami. The entire school would be bussed to one of the large recreational parks in the area and once there we would compete against each other with all kinds of contests like the three-legged race or relay racing.

Lag Baomer is the day that falls out a few weeks after Passover and among other things commemorates the day when a plaque (COVID 130 CE?) which had afflicted the students of the great Rabbi Akiva came to an end. May COVID 19 also come to an end soon!

It wasn’t until I made Aliyah to Israel that I learned that the Lag Baomer celebrations outside of Israel are somewhat Little League when compared to the Israeli version of Lag Baomer. We’re talking Major League!

The focus of the celebration is a bonfire. The “regulations” connected to making a bonfire in Israel are obviously much more liberal than most other places in the world. On Lag Baomer night countless bonfires are lit all throughout the country with children “of all ages” gathered around them for hours into the night, and even into the wee hours of the morning.

The Mother of all Bonfires is lit in Meron with over a half-million people coming to participate. You gotta see it to believe it.

And so, for weeks before Lag Baomer, on an almost daily basis, you will spy kids dragging wood, mostly, hopefully, scrap wood, as they slowly build what will surely be the largest bonfire ever. Multiply this by the thousands of kids all throughout Israel doing this for weeks on end and you will have an idea of the extent of this celebration.

School is let out early the day before. And Lag Baomer day itself is an official school Holiday. Like I said; Big League.

But this year in Israel, due to COVID 19, Lag Baomer will instead be celebrated … virtually.

When I conjure up in my mind the image of a virtual bonfire I think of someone in Hawaii celebrating Christmas sitting by a fake fireplace. It’s just not the same thing.

We understand the drastic measures being taken, banning any bonfires in the country tonight. The roads to Meron have been blocked for days.

And we’ve been through this before; Zoom Passover Seders and an entire country in lockdown for Independence Day.

So here is my suggestion. It’s Mid-May. Life is very slowly returning back to normal, albeit with many health precautions in place. Pre-schools are open. Schools are opening. The gyms are open. The Malls are open. Outdoor Markets are open. Take out is available. Grandchildren are allowed to visit Grandparents.

Would it be overly optimistic to say that by August people will be able to enjoy Summer vacation?

My proposal is to have a full week of August this year set aside to celebrate for real all the celebrations we celebrated only virtually this year.

We’ll begin on Sunday.  Everyone will be allowed to travel to family and friends to celebrate the Passover Seder or to host a Seder in one’s home. On Monday we’ll celebrate Mimouna the way it was meant to be celebrated. On Tuesday we will commemorate a proper Memorial Day, allowing visits to the cemetery and on Wednesday we will allow for Fireworks and traffic in honor of Independence Day. Thursday will, of course, be bonfire day in honor of Lag Baomer, and on Friday the Annual Jerusalem Day parade will be held. And I guess that somewhere in there we can squeeze in all those Marathons and Parades that we all missed out on.

And on Shabbat, we can celebrate the Bat and Bar Mitzvahs that were celebrated virtually.

Personally, as an Israeli tour guide, I’m anxiously awaiting the day (along with all of my fellow tour guides)  when I can give a real tour in Israel and not just a virtual one.

Until then, I think I’ll just stare at my computer screen tonight for hours on end enjoying smores with my virtual bonfire.

About the Author
Rabbi Weiss was born in Miami Beach, Florida and served as an emissary for Chabad in Teaneck, New Jersey for 21 years. He made Aliyah in July 2003 and is the author of "You Come For One Reason But Stay For Another." He is a licensed Tour Guide, father of 12, grandfather of many and resides in Mitzpeh Yericho, Israel.
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