Friday, May 27, 2016

Meron, and the Bonfires of Lag ba' Omer

Meron is a village in northern Israel , near the town of Safed (Tzfat). It is famous for the tomb of Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), an ancient scholar , and for the pilgrimage  of thousands to his tomb on Lag ba' Omer  holiday. 

Rashbi  was the author of the Zohar ( brightness, radiance in hebrew),  the basic text of the Kabbalah (the mystical dimension of the Torah). On the day of his passing he instructed his disciples to mark the date as a day of great light and joy.

entrance to the tomb (Web picture)

On the eve of Lag ba' Omer,( this year it fell on Wednesday 25 May) it is customary to light bonfires across the country , to commemorate  the passing of the talmudic sage, Rashbi, who gave us intense light through his teachings and miracles.


Children love bonfires. They work hard to gather scraps of wood and everything else that is needed to maintain a nice looking bonfire. They enjoy contemplating the fire, taking care of it, shouting, singing, eating roasted potatoes...Parents cooperate and supervise.

giving instructions

Until the last few years, the bonfires were modest: small to medium size. Now they've become bigger, more spectacular.  Meat (kebab, steak..) has been added to the menu of the innocent jacket potatoes .

adding wood to fire

I love bonfires too, but, honestly, if this tradition were to be abolished I wouldn't shed many tears. It's dangerous, it pollutes the air, of them is right behind my building (100 meter from it, I guess). On the other hand, I feel blessed by this annual bonfire near my home,  so I'll just settle for ways to minimize the dangers .  One has to see the good in everything.

tiny synagogue in the background (seen from my upper window)
 I feel blessed by its presence too

The firefighters and the paramedics are very busy on the eve of Lag ba' Omer and on the next day,especially in Meron where many thousands gather to pray in and around  Rashbi's tomb  asking for salvations , lighting bonfires, and having a lot of joy .

interesting view of the synagogue - 
seen in the circle around the fire


  1. July 14th, Bastille Day, is the day for fireworks and bonfires here in France, which celebrates the French Revolution. And November 5th, 'Guy Fawke's Night' has bonfires and fireworks to celebrate an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, England. And when I was a child growing up in the UK I remember that every house which had a garden lit a bonfire, and that the smoke was so thick it almost choked me. Now people tend to have BBQs and a few fireworks if at home, and then go to public bonfires and commercial firework displays. It's about the same here in France.
    But I like your bonfire night best, because it celebrates someone who did good for others.

  2. Vera,

    Indeed, everywhere people enjoy bonfires and fireworks display on various occasions.
    However, the Lag ba' Omer bonfires connect us, jews, to an ancient tradition and to a prominent figure like Rashbi, and this does something to us, to our feelings; it's hard even to think of ever stopping the long tradition. We could make small bonfires and that would solve isues of air pollution and fire safety.

  3. Summer and bonfires are what make great memories. Your bonfire pictures are awesome. :) I agree, just enjoy it.

  4. Angelina Pratt,

    Hi Angelina,
    I'm glad you like the pictures. I took them at the very beginning when the bonfire was ready and the wood started to burn. That was about 8 o'clock p.m. An hour later I left and missed the real festivity with songs and dances and food around the bonfire which lasted beyond midnight; this could have enriched my photos, but I'm not good at taking photos in the dark, anyway.

  5. Hi Duta, I didn't know that you live in Israel. I am Jewish and have been to Israel a few times. Never heard of that tradition but would like to experience it. Some traditions even where I live, start small, and over time, become overly big. Enjoyed reading this.

  6. Nikki(Sarah),

    Actually, Lag ba' Omer is a minor holiday, but it's nationally celebrated. I suppose, outside Israel, it's celebrated only within religious jewish communities.
    So it depends whether you live in proximity to such a community.
    It comes between the two bigger jewish holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, of which, I'm certain you've heard of.

  7. Duta
    Since it is such a tradition, it would be nice if a safety class of building bonfires was held in each city. My son and his friends like to build bonfires out back when it is cold. A hose for water is near by in case it gets out of hand. also he digs the ground out so it is barren and then places very large rocks around the area he has dug out. Also, it is never left unattended and put out when everyone leaves.
    You once wrote a post about leaving a rock on a grave which was a Jewish tradition and if I remember correctly it was to signify that You had been there or was it that you would return." Anyway, I put a rock on a friends grave at the Veteran Cemetery but could not remember the exact meaning. Could you refresh my memory. Peace

  8. It sounds very much like our July 4th Independence Day. Except we celebrate with fireworks. When I was younger I loved the fireworks but now they are tiring. People start shooting them off beginning in June, almost every night and our dogs are terrified. Poor little Chorizo sits on my lap trembling every single night. I can't wait until they outlaw them here in our county. We have the dirtiest air in the state and yet we allow people to pollute it even more.

    I'm getting cranky as I get older, haha!

  9. Lady Di Tn,

    I totally agree with you on the need to take safety precautions: hose of water nearby, rocks around the area of the bonfire, supervision until it is extinguished etc... Thank God, there wasn't any wildfire in recent years because of improvements of the process, and because firefighters and municipality do a lot to prevent incidents.

    The little stone that we leave on the tomb means: the tomb was visited, the deceased is not forgotten; we miss him/her. The stone is natural, doesn't stain the marble, and is a symbol of eternity. It can stay there forever unless removed by someone. Usually I'll replace the stone from previous year with a new one, but there are no rules, you do whatever you feel is right. One may use a stone found nearby in the cemetery or bring it from one's garden.

  10. Alicia,

    I totally share your opinion on fireworks. In my neck of the woods, they're launched every night during the week preceding Independance Day, and it's a complete nuisance. Poor dogs! Even kids are terrified. I also wish it was outlawed, but no chance of that.

  11. Very interesting post, Duta. I feel as you do, about both bonfires and fireworks. Indeed they are both dangerous and polluting, and can easily get out of hand. Yet we need our rituals, spiritual observances, symbols, etc., to inspire us and remind us of what we value deeply in life.

    And the irony is that both bonfires and fireworks can so easily remind us of war and conflagration, so their use imparts paradoxical associations.

    Wishing you a joyous day without the worry of a bonfire too close to home!

  12. Lynda Lehman,

    Thank you for your kind words.
    I believe you're right. We ultimately need both, the bonfires and the fireworks, as reminders of our symbols, our rituals, our heritage.

  13. Well Duta, That is a very happy day and the smoke will be gone tomorrow.
    I sold 2 acres to a Lunatic in 2003. He told my Husband he would build and complete their house in one year. Well, this Turkey is burning tree's
    now for ten years. If I could only buy a one way ticket to Mars for him.
    Your story about the roasted potatoes brought back memories of my Dad and
    I on walks in the woods. I was about 5 years old. He would hand me a leaf
    and I was to say the tree it came from. Then he'd pull 2 potatoes out
    of his pockets and we made a fire and I thought those burnt black potatoes were so good. Have a beautiful, I love your mind.God Bless. yvonne

  14. La Petite Gallery,

    Yvonne, the smoke will be gone the day after tomorrow.
    I'm glad my story brought back to you precious memories from your walks in the woods with your father. It's not hard to imagine the wonderful taste of those two burnt potatoes.

  15. Thanks Duta for clarifying the stone tradition for me and your practice sounds like a grand idea. Replace the stone with a new one. I will remember that too. Peace

  16. Dear Duta
    First, thanks for the kind words on my last post!
    I do believe in miracles and have been praying for one for my sister!
    She is still with me and that is a blessing!

    Wonderful post and photos! I thoroughly enjoyed it!
    When I was a little girl, a neighbor family used to have bonfires in the late summer and all the kids in the neighborhood loved it!

    Take care and thanks again for your kindness!

  17. Lady Di Tn,

    You're welcome. I like it that you have an open mind for other traditions. I think it enriches our life to learn and apply customs of different nations and religions.

  18. Margie,

    God is good and He will hopefully help your sister overcome her medical condition.
    She's lucky to have you as her sister.
    I'm glad you've enjoyed my post and photos. Yes, bonfires go well with summer and neighborhood kids on vacation.

  19. Interesting post, Duta! I'd love to visit Israel someday so really enjoyed reading this post. The bonfire pics are great, esp. the last one, and you must have a good view of the synagogue. I will enjoy following you! Take care

  20. Hi Pam,

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I'm glad you like my post and the bonfire photos.

  21. I never knew this about the bonfires.....can't blame you for the worry with it, dangerous

  22. Kim and Stuff...

    Yes Kim, bonfires could be dangerous; luckily, with the right safety precautions the danger will stay a theorethical matter only.

  23. They actually have bonfires at Easter time here in is so fascinating!

  24. Optimistic Existantialist,

    No doubt, there's something fascinating and uplifting about bonfires whatever the meaning behind them: religious, recreational, patriotic etc..

  25. I always learn something mew when I visit your blog. Very interesting. Thanks for your visit.

  26. Linda O'Connel,

    I'm glad you feel like that. Like any other blogger I hope the readers can learn something new or get some message from my blog.

  27. I think my old boyfriend had a condo in the town of Safed, looks like
    a nice place to live. My neighbor has a bonfire once a week. Maine is
    like living on the old frontier. Concealed guns with no permits, fireworks legal till midnight, no zoning laws, you can build a million dollar house and your neighbor can build a crap shack right next to you.
    The Politicians have no brains. Living with a view of a religious site
    is always nice. My girlfriend was into the kabbalah for weeks, she
    was mesmerized. Be well and happy bonfires. Just kidding. yvonne

  28. La Petite Gallery,

    Safed (Tzfat) is a very interesting little place up on a mountain, combining the old and the new, the religious with the secular. It has a famous artists quarter too.
    Maine sounds like many other places in the world. Law and order, nowadays, is something very volatile everywhere.

    Thanks for commenting again.