Lag B’Omer Bonfires

May 4th 2011

Israel is burning up, this May 21, 2011, with bonfires galore. This holiday celebration of Lag B’omer isn’t exactly “marshmallow season” ( though you could bring a bag if you want). Rather, it is a day of great joy and festivities, after thirty three days of mourning in which observant Jews don’t listen to live music, have wedding, or cut their hair (notice all of the beards appearing around you?).

If you are lucky enough to be vacationing in Israel this May, know that the festival of Lag B’omer is best celebrated up in the beautiful Israeli mountains of Meron, a few miles west of the mystical land of Tsfat.

There, estimates of around 500,000 people of all ages go to celebrate the yartzheit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, known as the one who brought down the mystical teachings of the Zohar for Kabbalistic posterity. 500,000 people for any festival is an impressive number, but with the relatively small population of Israel, that number is astounding! Be sure to stick close to your Israeli tour guide to avoid getting lost in the crowd.
Traveling in Israel becomes a little more intricate in Lag B’omer season. The entire country gets in on the action, closing down highways, setting up impromptu massive bus systems to transport hundreds of thousands of Jews ready to dance.

What can you expect to see at the Lag B’omer celebration on Mt. Meron?

If you would like, you can visit the grave of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai himself. Nearby in Meron is actually the graves of Hillel and Shammai as well, if you are going on an Israeli private group tour earlier in the week. Around the building on Lag B’omer night you will find massive amounts of men dancing for hours and hours and hours. The air is electric. If you are on an Israel bar mitzvah tour or Israel bat mitzvah tour, your child will get be inspired by the intensity of Jewish spirit.

Another custom you will see observed the morning afterwards is what is termed in Yiddish “upshernish”. An upshernish is the official cutting of a boy’s hair when he is three years old. As one is not, according to Jewish law, supposed to eat the fruits of a planted tree until it is three years old, so too some observant Jews grow their child’s hair out until he is three. And what better day to cut it than Lag B’omer!

Free lodging ( aka bring your own tent or sleeping bag) on the mountain top for anyone strong enough to brave roughing it, or just don’t go to sleep all night, that’s not hard considering there is celebrations throughout the night.