The Pyromaniac Holiday
As soon as Pesach ends, children in Israel of all ages begin to collect pieces of wood. Everywhere you walk in Jerusalem you see children carrying everything from small twigs to old wooden doors and cartons. What are these children, some as young as three years old, going to do with all of this wood?


The children are preparing for their Lag B’Omer bonfires.


Just one month after Pesach, children of all backgrounds, religious, traditional and those who would consider themselves to be secular Israelis head to open spaces with their wood to build bonfires.


What exactly is going on?


As far as we know, Lag B’Omer is the date that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai passed away (although the Chida and Ben Ish Chai disagree). The custom was to light candles at his grave.


The Lag B’Omer bonfires in Meron began in the 16th century. Some see the bonfire as a giant Yahrzeit (Memorial) candle to show us how much light Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought into the world.


The custom of having a bonfire in memory of an important person who passed away is actually a pagan practice that was later adopted by the Christians to honor deceased saints.


The Modern Zionist State of Israel celebrates the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-136 CE) on Lag B’Omer (the day of the victory). The bonfires represent the signal fires that the Bar Kochba rebels lit on the mountain tops to relay messages. They also remind us that the Romans did not allow the Jewish people to light bonfires to signal the start of the Jewish holidays and now we have the freedom to be proud Jews.


Whatever the reason, the important thing is to make sure that the children stay safe during the holiday and that the bonfires are supervised.


As Smokey bear says: “only you can prevent wildfires.”