Zeev Maghen
Fighting Words: Politically Incorrect Essays on Israel, Zionism, Judaism and Some Other Stuff

The Climate Crisis, Post-Trauma and Post-Zionism

How a Culture of Anxiety is Undermining our Raison d'Etre

Ron Arad – an IDF aviator shot down over Lebanon in 1986, captured by the Islamic “Amal” militia and never seen again – grew up not far from where I live in Hod HaSharon. Every year for almost two decades now the city has hosted a rally on behalf of his release, under the slogan Ron Arad la-khofesh nolad (“Ron Arad was born free!”). As hope that this nationally known POW was still among the living dwindled, the event gradually metamorphosed from a protest march into an annual parade-arcade for the kids – as fitting a commemoration as any of the cause for which the courageous navigator sacrificed his life.

The highlight of the whole affair for the youngins is “The Great Balloon Launch”: the simultaneous release of several thousand blue-and-white helium balloons that soar skyward like a vast gaggle of plump geese and, for a short time, cover the firmament almost from horizon to horizon in a truly magnificent display. My six-year-old lives for this moment, looks forward to it all year long, and as the day approaches, works herself into a veritable frenzy of anticipatory delight.

Finally, there we were, the whole family, standing on the verdant lawn of the Four Seasons Park near our home, surrounded on all sides by a menagerie of prodigious and colorful “bouncy castle”-type inflatables that hundreds of children had just abandoned momentarily in order to focus on the main event. My daughter held my hand tightly and gazed heavenward. Countless other kids did the same. The announcer bellowed into the microphone of his souped-up, sensurround sound-system: “Is everybody ready!?”


“I said, iseverybodyreeeeeeeaaaaaady!?!?

Really loud cheers.

“Alrighty then, hold on tight, ‘cause heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere goes…”

My daughter was practically weeping with excitement.

At this point, what sounded like a pre-recorded female voice cut in, soft and smooth but with an unmistakable air of reprimand about it: “This year, and from now on, in order to do our part in protecting the environment, and safeguard fish from the dangers of micro-plastic ingestion, we will launch a single, symbolic balloon in honor of Ron Arad…”

And up it went, a lone, sad, pale-white gas-bladder. A park-wide groan arose from the throats of a thousand juveniles. My daughter looked at me in shock, tears in her eyes, seriously crestfallen. She refused to play on any of the trampoline rides and spent the rest of the day – indeed, the rest of the week – moping. I wanted to shoot someone.

Now, lookit: I am a big-time nature guy, a veritable tree hugger. I pick up other people’s litter, own a solar cell-phone charger, force my kids to sit through Tu-Bishvat seders, and feel most at home when back-packing across Yosemite (which, as I explain to my children, gets its name from the daily call emitted by this national park across the Atlantic Ocean to Israelis: “Yo, Semite! Come and visit me!”). Ever since that iconic TV commercial in the 1970s with the Indian brave sailing his wooden canoe down a placid river and, upon encountering a plastic bottle floating in the water, shedding a tear – ever since then I have done my best to outdo Grizzly Adams in advocating for a cleaner, greener, properly o-zone-sheathed planet.

My only stint in prison was overnight at the Albany County Lock-Up, after some high school friends and I were caught sneaking into the Limerick Nuclear Facility at night and scrawling graffiti against toxic waste. I have been riding my bicycle to school and to the university every day for over forty years in order to avoid carbon monoxide emissions (and because my wife won’t let me have the car). I shlepped two decade’s worth of Philadelphia and New York City Hebrew High School pupils to the Pocono Environmental Education Center; stopped smoking soon after I started because I couldn’t bring myself to chuck butts on the ground and my pockets got too full; and have arranged strict daily family trips to the neighborhood recycling cage since moving to Hod HaSharon (until they got rid of the cages because the whole process was found to be…bad for the environment).

In short, I’m as ecologically woke as the next guy. And as for fish gobbling down bits of balloon, well: no one has anything on me in the animal-loving department, either. I grew up with four dogs, all of whom – like the little ewe lamb in the prophet Nathan’s parable – not only slept in our beds, but ate off porcelain plates at our table. (When I was little someone told me that if a dog’s nose is wet that means s/he is healthy. As a result of this information mini-me, reversing cause and effect, spent much of my childhood licking and slobbering on my dogs’ noses to keep those beloved canines in the pink).

Not only do I refuse to do my wife’s bidding and murder trespassing arthropods, I actually carry the vile creatures across the street to a wooded area, seek the lushest spot in which to set them down, and audibly wish them “Godspeed” as they scuttle away. Once, on Long Beach Island, my brother and I robbed a fisherman of his bucket and tossed his catch – probably already dead – straight back into the sea, so that it could continue feasting on balloon bits. My wife just told me about the climate activists who splashed tomato soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers; I would have used sheep entrails (Impressionism leaves me…unimpressed). As for radical vegans spilling milk on the supermarket floor, well – I’m not going to cry over that.

So, yeah, I care a lot about the environment, and everything in it. Sure do. And yet…

…and yet, Jesus Christ! This generation is out of its frikkinmind! The survival of the planet and the various species that plod and creep and crawl all over it is really important, I grant you, but you know what else is really important? I’ll tell you what: FUN!!! Specifically, our kidsfun. What is the point of preserving a healthier, less polluted, more sustainable world, if we gradually take all the enjoyment out of living in it!? We can’t spend all day every day watching every single thing we do lest some pleasureful activity or other in which we or our offspring are engaged defrost the polar ice-caps.

I know, I know: “If everybody thought like you, etc., etc.” Let me tell you a story. For years and years Israelis were urged to conserve water, take short showers, never wash their cars, forego backyard pools, avoid water-pistol and water-balloon fights – all in a sizzling hot country. My friend the high-tech entrepreneur preached the opposite: “Take the longest showers you can, wash your cars daily, and make sure the car-wash deteriorates into an afternoon-long water fight, preferably with hoses.” He argued that only thus would we be forced to solve the problem of national dehydration. The two of us used to organize an annual simkhat beit hashoeva party on hol ha-moed sukkot that made Venice look like the Gobi Desert. And in the end, he was right. Ten years ago Israel invented a method of desalination so successful that she now provides potable water to half the countries in the region (some of whom even lob missiles at us to show their gratitude). I’m not saying this method will always work, or that we shouldn’t conserve in certain areas, but human ingenuity has got to be factored into the equation, or else we will end up rationing our resources to such an extent that everybody gets to breathe once an hour. The climate crisis is simultaneously exaggerated – an army of junior termagant, Greta Thunberg look-alikes blames fluctuations in everything from T-bills to my cholesterol levels on global warming – and underestimated: in the end, no amount of human abstinence or “mitigation” will slow down the menacing ecological and cosmological processes sufficiently, and therefore (as with the case of Israel’s water shortage) new and bolder solutions will have to be found. In the meantime, we need to live.

* * *    

It used to be that zoos were for…people. Today, zoos are for animals (ever notice how many empty “habitats” you come upon as you drag your progeny around the place, constantly promising them that they are about to witness something really cool? The animals are indoors, napping away, and mustn’t be disturbed. The nerve of you, anyway! Do you think these creatures were put here in the zoo for your viewing pleasure!?).

When we were young, we used to feed the elephants peanuts. They would walk right up to the fence, heave their heavy trunks over the barrier, and place them directly into the palms of our hands. Feeling around for the treat – tickling us silly – they would scoop up the little goober and, in a wonderful curly-Q movement, plop it straight into their mouths. It was a magic, majestic moment. Today, if you let your child feed fresh leaves to a deer through the fence of a little enclosure in the Yarkon Park, get ready for a major chewing-out and on-the-spot court martial followed by summary execution at the hands not just of the zoo ranger, but a whole armada of saintly, shrill, busybody fellow visitors.

Yeah, that’s right, dear reader, I admit it: the smile on my five-year-old’s face as her fare is munched right out of her palm is worth a Bambi’s possible tummy-ache to me, or even two whole minutes off a giant tortoise’s one-hundred-fifty-year-long life span as a result of an entire month’s worth of eager-to-feed youngsters overdoing it on the vegetables with his royal belatedness.

(All this talk of tortoises reminds me of an exchange I recently had with a pet store owner. My middle daughter had been begging me for a big turtle, “the kind you can ride on, Daddy,” and I found just the reptile at his shop, in an aquarium labeled “Giant Sulcata Tortoise – 3000 NIS.” Now, the creature was about the size of my thumb, so I asked the proprietor: “What guarantee do I have that this little critter is really the type of turtle that you say he is, and that he will grow up to be truly enormous?”

“Well,” the store-owner reassured me, “you keep the receipt, and if he doesn’t grow to full tortoise size, return him and I’ll give you your money back.”

“Great,” I replied. “And how long will it take him to reach full size?”

“Fifty years,” he answered.).

Back to our thread. Life is balance, and children’s enjoyment (and even, occasionally, that of adults) has no business being a negligible factor in the equation. There used to be this amazing bird safari (cleverly dubbed a “tzafari” in Hebrew) in Tel-Aviv’s Joshua Gardens. It was a massive sanctuary for our fine feathered friends, a park of several square kilometers with a net fifty meters high and tons of flying room. All kinds of colorful, magical, fantastical fowl waddled and winged their way around the place, and my and everyone else’s little ones were crazy about it.

But the animal rights kooks got wind of the fact that two-legged creatures were being entertained at the expense of…two legged creatures. They also heard that some of the parakeets had been trained to do tricks, and although what goes on in the consciousness of a parakeet as he learns to ride a little bicycle and what goes on in the consciousness of a parakeet as he does not learn to ride a little bicycle is pretty much the same – to wit: “bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” – they decided that war crimes were being perpetrated. So they pressured the municipality to close the place down and liberate the birds, who promptly soared off into the wild blue yonder, there to enjoy five whole minutes of thoroughgoing emancipation until they were seized and their heads bitten off by hawks. The progressives had scored one more in a long series of victories over the disgusting sound of children’s laughter.

(Speaking of children’s laughter, yesterday I was in the park with my son Yoav, and we saw a mother take her daughter’s hand and charge across the grass into a bunch of crows.  The birds scattered in a huge, cackling cloud, and the little girl was ecstatic.  We’ve all seen and participated in such scenes a hundred times throughout our lives, but what I myself had never encountered was what happened next: the poor mother was assailed by a passing couple, who demanded to know what right she thought she had to disturb the feeding fowl for the sake of her child’s selfish enjoyment, what kind of example she she was setting for her daughter, and whether or not she was a full-blown sadist.  Her kid was on the verge of tears, and Yoav and I did the only thing we could do: we grabbed their hands and all four of us ran around the park for ten straight minutes preventing various flocks from alighting until we collapsed out of breath.  Evil must be fought).

If we follow the logic of these incurable wackos, we should also ban soccer, football, baseball, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee and, um, walking, because all these activities involve crushing ants underfoot. For that matter, we should – the entire human race, now – become Jain monks, tooling around buck naked with a mask over our mouths like Fire Island Beach during the Covid pandemic, carrying a broomlike branch with which to sweep aside insects lest we tread upon them as we locomote. Tell you what: if you will, I will. “First of all, do no harm,” is, albeit, an integral part of the Hippocratic oath. I am the kind of doctor who never took that oath.

Apropos: I am pleased to report that North Tel-Aviv has become a bastion of the “Right to Life” movement, as attested by the eloquent vegan slogan recently printed all over the sidewalks there: akhalta baytza, garasta efroakh, “Eat an egg, shred a chick.” Nor is it solely on the fetal level that the advocates of quadruped liberation evince solicitousness for animal, as opposed to human, life. Here in Israel, you will never hear these types expressing even a smidgen of sadness or anger over – for instance – the murder of Jewish civilians in terrorist attacks (sheep-like cookie-cuts that they are, they simply must conform to the obligatory worldwide template and augment their specie-est radicalism with political leftism). In general – let’s call a spade a spade – they just dont like people much. I once took my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter to an “Adopt-a-Dog” afternoon in the Yarkon Park, and when we saw a potential canine BFF who struck our fancy, we approached. Little Yael made some cute noises and stretched her hand out to pet the pooch. The two young ladies in charge of this particular puppy screamed and almost struck the child. “Keep her away from the dog!!!” they warned, with fury in their eyes.

“What, does the dog bite?” I asked, foolishly assuming that they were at all concerned for my toddler’s welfare.

“No. Your child might injure him, or give him a disease!

I pulled tiny-Bruce-Lee-meets-Typhoid-Mary back in between my knees. “Good luck finding husbands,” was my Parthian shot (no it wasn’t – do you think I want to do more jail time? – but it should have been).

Anyway, the point is, again: we can’t walk around the entire universe on tip-toe all our lives lest we inadvertently smush a quark.

* * *    

This business of sacrificing happiness in the name of avoiding possible hurt reminds me of the first time – and, thankfully, the last time – that the university succeeded in dragging the professors in my department to a sexual harassment seminar. The lawyer-lady leading the seminar – buzz-cut, severe visage, black clothing and black make-up – began by gleefully regaling us with tales of the many men she had literally put behind bars for what she herself admitted were “borderline misdemeanors that you wouldn’t think warrant prison time at all,” such as complimenting a co-worker’s blouse or asking her to coffee too often – i.e., twice.

In response to this last point, elaborated by the frightful vixen into an entire intricate set of clauses prohibiting anything beyond a single attempt to gain a female’s affirmative response to a suggested outing, an elderly Moroccan fellow sitting in the front of the room could not help but comment. He raised his hand and said, “Now listen here, madam. If I had followed this rule, I would never have gotten married. My wife rejected me twenty times before she said ‘yes’!” Everybody laughed. Everybody, that is, except for the seminar leader, who, like so many of her ilk, was incapable of this basic human response action. She replied: “That may be the case, but sacrifices must be made for the sake of a safer, more comfortable, more accepting environment for all. I am afraid that courtship is a thing of the past…”

She really said that.

So, gents, you had better think long and hard about some seriously effective pick-up lines, ‘cause from now on you’ve got one shot. It’s do or die…

Apropos Women-in-Black and sexual harassment: current Labour Party leader and transportation minister Meirav Mikhaeli – who wears black every day on principle, and has forced university rectors to issue directives regarding gender-neutral speech that double the length of lectures (“When you [feminine] and you [masculine] consider [f] and consider [m] the implications [f] and implications [m] of this development…”) – has just inaugurated a pilot program of sixty “Buses for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment” (autobusim le-mniyat hatrada minit). I kid you not. They’ve got mirrors surrounded by slogans reminding passengers to respect each other’s space, cameras on the ceiling that capture every suspicious move, admonitions on the walls warning of the dire consequences of “transgressing one’s boundaries,” lines on the floor indicating how far apart knees may be spread and how much distance must be kept from fellow travelers, and buttons to push all along the aisle in case one feels threatened by “inappropriate staring.”

I’m running, I’m running, I’m panting, I’m wheezing, I’m – damn! I missed that bus.

(By the way, buses designed to prevent sexual harassment already exist: the ultra-orthodox run several routes of these in B’nai Brak and Jerusalem, with men on one side, women on the other and a mekhitza down the aisle.  This phenomenon’s most vociferous opponent for close on two decades now?  Meirav Mikha’eli).

* * *    

Anyway, fast forward from this year’s Ron Arad “Great Balloon Launch” – where, it will be recalled, the word “balloon” was not put in the singular for nothing – several months hence to Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. My kids, like children all over the country, look forward with major anticipation to the festival, and especially to the fireworks display, which gets fancier every time (last year they – by which I mean the Chinese rocket manufacturers – somehow managed to draw a double heart-shaped Star of David across the firmament, and then shoot a sizzling love arrow through the center. 该死!). So there we were, in the same Four Seasons Park, on our family blanket munching corn-on-the-cob and guzzling down coke, watching elementary school dance troupes on stage moving, grooving and gyrating to…American Hip-Hop music, which genre is, of course, eminently suited to a celebration of the Jewish People’s return to its historic homeland and the cultivation of its Hebrew heritage and its cultural independence.

Anyway, the moment was fast approaching, and my daughters eagerly raised their eyes to the starry sky. Just then, the announcer piped up: “Shalom Hod HaSharon!!! Happy Independence Day!!! This year, for the sake of the environment, and in order to avoid triggering shell-shocked army veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we will be skipping the fireworks display, and proceeding directly to…the mayor’s speech!! So, let’s hear it, folks: give it up for…the mayor!!!!”

Now, look: it is obviously hard as hell to say anything at all concerning shell-shocked veterans. Israeli society, and the current author no less so, harbors a profound veneration for our fighting men and women in uniform (among whom, until my discharge, I proudly counted myself) and the indescribable hell that some of them have gone through. But in seventy years of Israel Independence Day celebrations, not a single IDF veteran has ever raised a public objection to fireworks, or claimed that the sights and sounds of the festive display take him back to some horrific battle scene or other. And in fact, few if any veterans raised such an objection or made such a claim this year, either. It was, to a large extent, decided for them that it would be a good idea to ruin everybody’s celebration for their sake, whether or not any of them really wanted this.

And even if five, or ten, or twenty, or a hundred or more IDF veterans spread around the country genuinely suffer from the effects on their psyches of fireworks, does anyone imagine that they wouldn’t prefer to head out to the boondocks for the holiday, or close their windows and turn on the air-conditioner and TV full blast for a grand total of seven minutes, rather than destroy the fun of hundreds of thousands of families, for the sake of whose welfare, happiness and ability to celebrate with reckless abandon they fought like lions against our foes in the first place?

And what will be the end of it? Where will it stop? How many of life’s pleasureful and meaningful activities will our kids have to give up on if the new way of the world involves every Tom, Dick, Harry and Shoshana bringing to the fore whatever phobias and sensitivities they suffer from and demanding that their predicament be taken into account without further ado by all members of society upon pain of ostracism? We already have to watch nearly everything we say for fear of “triggering” someone or other. Fireworks, courtship, balloon launches, feeding animals through a fence – these are all just the beginning. If we keep on going down this road, life will soon be hemmed in on all sides…like a coffin.

My little one, Na’ama, grew up from infancy under the influence of the nearly biennial missile attacks upon Israel from our neighborly jihadists to the North and South. Some of her earliest memories involve being yanked violently out of bed in the middle of the night with air-raid sirens blaring and her mother on the verge of tears and her sister screaming at her father – who was hurriedly descending to the basement lugging a large, non-ambulant child – for leaving the dogs upstairs (yes, I went back up to get them), and then the mighty, dreadful, thunderous boom and the shuddering of the floor and walls, and…

…and it has accompanied my darling daughter for her entire little life, and every time a car backfires in our neighborhood she comes running, day or night, with a terrified look on her face and tears rolling down her cheeks and throws herself into our arms. For years she couldn’t get to sleep for hours after bedtime. Fireworks, no matter how distant, sent her flying from her bed into ours, begging and pleading with us to go down to the basement and asking over and over why everybody around us wants to kill us.

I never took her down to the basement. Instead, I took her outside, put her on my shoulders, showed her that the loud noises were fireworks, not missiles, told her they were wonderful and beautiful, not dangerous, hugged the stuffing out of the kid and took her straight back to bed. I have never initiated or participated in a campaign to cancel a fireworks display, even though the “post-traumatic stress disorder” victim in this case was a little girl and not a fully grown male army veteran. Na’ama has, tfu, tfu, tfu, gotten much better.

Speaking of Na’ama: we just got back from her birthday party, which we celebrated – vu den? – in the Four Seasons Park. It was a blast. When it came time for the cake, it was gluten-free at the behest of the birthday girl – even though Na’ama can’t stand the taste – because one of the young ladies attending is allergic. That’s nice (at lots of parties the “gluten kid” gets his own separate cookie to eat on the side). Also, minutes ago we were informed via whatsapp that Tamar’s class is moving from a second-floor room to a new ground floor room because one of her classmates sprained his ankle. That’s very sweet (though perhaps a bit overdone: get your butt up the stairs on crutches, kid – it’ll really impress the girls). And back to Na’ama, whose classmates, as of last week, have designated the last ten minutes of recess as “gentle soccer time” for the sake of an autistic peer who is afraid of hard kicks. That’s genuinely heartwarming. Obviously, there are times when we should sacrifice certain pleasures or conveniences for the sake of others, even if they constitute tiny minorities, even minorities of one.

On the other hand, I remember how in New York City, just before I left to make aliyah – we’re talking the late 1990s – there was this initiative to put coin-operated, self-cleaning toilets on every fifth corner or something. Not that I relish the idea of ever availing myself of one of these, but hey: when you gotta go… At any rate, the project was about to get underway, when the various advocacy groups for the disabled got wind of the fact that wheelchairs couldn’t fit into these portable bathrooms, and that rendering them wheelchair accessible created a host of insoluble problems and was therefore unfeasible. They made a massive hullabaloo – not the wheelchair-bound people themselves, mind you, but their self-appointed advocacy groups – charging “discrimination in its purest form” and insisting that “according to law everyone must be able to go to the bathroom in the same place.” Either the disabled got access, or nobody got access. The city – scared silly of bad press, harassment and lawsuits – caved in and cancelled the project. So now you know why New York smells like a big urinal. Sometimes the minority’s needs should be outweighed by those of the majority.

Anyway, back to Israel Independence Day. Dozens of Israeli municipalities, like the herd of sheep that they collectively are, cancelled their fireworks displays in order to respect the (ostensible) wishes of the IDF-PTSD population. But the mayor of Bat-Yam – not exactly Israel’s most “progressive” city – refused to give in to the farce. “This is not post-trauma,” he proclaimed to the press, as he got ready to launch a barrage of rockets heavenward with his own two hands. “This is post-Zionism.”

Over the last decade the new national mission here in Israel seems to have become the discovery of more and more individuals and collectives that can be characterized as suffering from one form or another of post-trauma. The trend is so widespread, takes up so much airtime, has become so par for the course in daily discourse, that when a study was published last year connecting cold-cuts with cancer the headlines screamed “Pas-Trauma!” (Get it?). Everybody who is anybody has it these days, and makes sure to have it professionally treated, and makes sure everybody knows about it. If you aren’t in therapy, there is something wrong with you.

The hallmark of the spirit that built and maintained this miracle of a polity – the State of Israel – through thick and thin was always epitomized by the Hebrew statement af al pi khen nitgaber: “Despite [fill in the given obstacle, challenge, difficulty, ailment, etc.], we shall overcome.” When dealing with distress, Zionism always encouraged fortitude, when facing adversity, strength. Today we not only encourage surrender and resignation in the face of hardship, we go out of our way to encourage the assertion of the hardship itself. If I had a shekel for every interviewer on Israeli Army Radio who strives mightily on an hourly basis to convince his or her interlocutors that they are indeed suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – even if the trauma in question involves receiving a low grade on a test or ingesting some brand of peanut butter that does not agree with them – and not letting up until the interviewee breaks down and acknowledges that s/he is indeed so afflicted… It’s like we are all attending one big, nationwide Alcoholics Anonymous seminar, where the first step is to admit that we just cant cope. Weakness is the new strength.

In the same section of the same newspaper (Yediot Aharonot) on the same day, three stories appeared.  The first concerned a “heroic” IDF officer who suffered (of course) from post-trauma, decided he was a woman, left the army and left his wife and four children (what a hero!).  The second was about a man who couldn’t deal with all the pressure of living in tension-filled Israel, and finally found calm and a sense of safety in…Berlin.  The third was entitled: “Be a Man — Go to Pieces.”  Once upon a time a “hero” was someone who overcame his weaknesses and challenges.  Now a hero is someone who succumbs to them.

A society that is, as of now, too sensitive to handle fireworks once a year, surrounded on all sides by a society that increasingly celebrates weddings, circumcisions, holidays, break-fasts, house-warmings, graduations, the conclusions of Qur’anic study cycles and even successfully brushing their teeth by shooting off hundreds of actual firearms every evening. Now theres a recipe for success.

And we just can’t get enough of the fragility. A favorite pastime in this connection is identifying high ranking Israeli military men whose souls have been permanently damaged by their army service and who now realize, and just can’t wait to talk publicly about, just how diseased and debilitated they are (“Many Israeli Generals have PTSD,” asserts a HaAretz newspaper headline of 23 Tishrei, 5783 – as if this were a meritorious [and check-able] fact – “but this Confession is Unprecedented…”). I wonder if Hamas commanders lie on the couch and spill their innermost apprehensions and trepidations to the Palestinian press (no I don’t – they don’t).

* * *    

Fast forward again, only a couple of weeks, to Lag Ba-Omer. My kids…well, by now I don’t have to tell you that my kids are nuts for the bonfires that light up the entire Land of Israel on this holiday. Pyromaniacs from infancy – several years back they fought so fiercely over who got to hold the Havdallah candle that they set the kitchen table on fire – the girls join the rest of the juvenile population in gathering (and stealing) wood for weeks prior to the date, heaping it up in massive piles all over town in delicious anticipation of the coming multi-venue conflagration. On the night of the festival, as the flames rise higher, they sing songs of Eretz Israel and Bar-Kokhva (the second century CE Jewish rebel who kept the Romans, may their name be blotted out, at bay for a good three years). They roast potatoes and marshmallows, shoot home-made bows and arrows, make new friends, and in general have a fantastic time. It’s a Zionist mardi gras.

Guess what happened last week, in Hod HaSharon and a great many other cities across the country. That’s right: “This year, in order to protect the environment; in order to respect the sensibilities of shell-shocked veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome; and furthermore, in order to prevent the possibility of burn injuries (and, if we’re being honest, because Bar-Kokhva was a Fascist-Zionist-Militarist-Colonialist-Male-Toxic-Warmongering Scallywag), Lag BaOmer bonfires are hereby cancelled and prohibited (they actually had patrol cars tour the city in search of violations, which were promptly snuffed out), and the municipality will instead show, on a large screen erected specifically for the purpose on the Lapid Elementary School playground, the movie ‘Shrek 3.’”

They’re trying hard to put out our fire.

(In answer to your question, yes, of course I made sure that my kids and their friends still had a Lag Ba-Omer bonfire. What do you take me for? Someone who would balk at exploiting the fact that the wife of the chief of the local police force is doing a masters degree under the auspices of a close colleague of mine?).

About the Author
Ze’ev Maghen is the author of John Lennon and the Jews: A Philosophical Rampage (Toby Press, 2015). He is professor of Arabic Literature and Islamic History and Chairman of the Department of Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Maghen also serves as senior fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem and at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.