Last year I was at Khal Chassidim in North Miami Beach, where the Riminover Rebbie orchestrated the Lag B’Omer “bonfire” experience in the parking lot. The “bonfire” consisted of a metal vessel filled with flaming cotton balls soaked in olive oil. We sang Bar Yochai and threw candles into the fire from behind the police enforced barricade. Everything was safe and … filtered… muted… kinda “Super 8 – black and white” like.
This year in Ma’alot in the northern end of the Holy Land, the Lag B’Omer festivities started days before, and it’s almost a completely different experience, it was … “Technicolor” or “Kodachrome” like.
About 4 days before the holiday we recieved an email from my son’s 2nd grade teacher warning us of the dangers of collecting wood. Dangers being – snakes, spiders and the like.
On Friday morning all of the children brought wood to school for their bonfire in the playground. Some brought little pallets, some brought little boards, others brought chucks of wood or bags of pine cones. The children also brought foil-wrapped potatoes, to be eaten with the complimentary pita and hummus.
After Shabbat – on Lag B’Omer night, tons of kids converged on the hill at the end of our block. A steady stream of cars unloaded planks of wood, pallets and cardboard, BBQ’s, food and drinks for the long night ahead. The children were electrified shlepping wood here and pallets there. They were busy like ants. There were no parents or teachers to supervise – the high school kids and slightly older handled everything, and everybody, beautifully. The little children did a great job of following directions.
The police and fire trucks came around periodically ensuring that all fires were safe and that everybody was okay.
By the end of the night, well around 3:00 in the morning, there were about 18 fires on the hill. Kids were chatting, playing guitar and singing. Their intention was to stay all night long, but… around 3:30 am a storm rolled in and put out the fires.
As I live in Israel and feel the experiences of the holidays, whether they are from the Torah (Shabbat, Pesach, etc.), or a minhag (Lag B’Omer), or from the government (Yom HaAtzmut), the feeling is more intense, more real, bigger than life – like “IMAX Dolby with Surround Sound”.