Monday, May 3, 2010

Bonfires on Lag B'omer

OK, OK. I know that this post will make me sound like a crotchety old man.
I can live with that.
Lag B'omer here is really hard to explain. As I've posted previously, preparations for the day involve literally weeks and weeks of wood collection, as children compete with each other to construct the largest possible pile of wood. They form groups, teams, collectives, all in the goal of building the biggest and best fire.
And they steal much of the wood from building sites.
On Lag B'omer, we sealed our windows, and went out to watch. In the small area where my children were burning their wood, I counted 12 bonfires. Twelve. One neighbor commented that the scene reminded him of the doomsday scenes after a nuclear holocaust that you see in the movies: masses of people huddled around fires on a dirt field. Another (from South Africa) noted that the scene reminder her of Soweto.
Next to my son's bonfire, the boys had collected a pile of wood larger than my living room. I think that they were hunkering down for the winter. At the scene, parents had constructed makeshift barbecues, grilling hot dogs, kebabs, burgers, etc. Now, I like a barbecue like the next guy, but on Saturday night?
My favorite little "nugget": I went to bed at about 12am, having had enough of the fires. When I got up and went to minyan the next morning, at 6:45am, a group of boys were standing next to a fire in broad daylight, and they were still throwing wood onto it. They were prepared.
I guess there's nothing really "wrong" with all the bonfires, other than the incredibly dangerous nature of burning numerous open fires in residential areas without taking really any safety precautions. (I'd be curious to know about burn statistics in the country on Lag B'omer.) But what bothers me more is the vague notion that these fires are somehow religious in nature, and connected to Lag B'omer in some way.
I don't see it.
At our fires, I didn't see any spirituality, religiosity or connection to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. There was no Jewish music that I could hear, and the only Jewish content I saw was in the form of a "quiz" that our neighbor conducted for the very small children who were afraid of all the fire.
I imagine that could we ask Rabbi Shimon today what he thought about the way we observe Lag B'omer, he would probably prefer that instead of eating hot dogs, we all learned a mishnah with our kids that night, put them to sleep, and instead of giving them a day off, sent them off to learn Torah in school the next day.
I guess I do sound pretty crotchety. Oh well.