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The Bonfire This Time

The Bonfire This Time

In Israel, Lag b’Omer — the holiday that occurs this year on Saturday night and Sunday — has many traditions.

It’s a day off from school.

It’s a time when many 3-year-old boys get their first haircut and adult couples get married.

It’s a nationwide celebration of bonfires and picnics, especially a days-long Woodstock-type gathering for an estimated half-million people at Meron, a town in the northern Galilee.

And for building contractors, it’s an occasion to beware.

Because of the ubiquitous bonfires — which light up the night and smoke up the sky, in memory of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the second-century sage whose yahrtzeit is marked on the date and was said to give spiritual light to the world — wood is at a premium. So contractors assign extra guards to watch their stock of planks and scaffolding.

Lag b’Omer — the name means the 33rd day in the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot — is known as Lag l’Omer among Sephardic Jews. The day, according to Jewish tradition, is when a plague that took the lives of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva ended.

Because of the day’s joyous nature, the semi-mourning features of the 49-day Sefira period also end. Hence, haircuts and weddings are permitted.

Many Jews eat carob on Lag b’Omer; a Jewish legend tells of a carob tree that miraculously grew outside of the cave in northern Israel when Shimon bar Yochai and his son hid from Roman soldiers for more than a dozen years.

Shimon bar Yochai, an early kabbalist leader, is buried in Meron.

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