Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Shocking Turn of Events: Why I've Come to Enjoy Lag B'Omer

Now that we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Lag B’Omer fires are over (well, we can’t really breathe this morning, but you get what I mean), it’s time for some reflection. I usually really dislike this holiday. I would say hate, but I’m probably not supposed to say hate about a holiday. There isn’t too much to like as a parent. You send your kids out to a fire where they dance around, get splinters, eat too many hotdogs and refuse to come home. When they do finally come home, they have left trash all over our beautiful land, they’ve burned the ground and they’ve returned as stinky as a small skunk.

And that’s if they have friends with whom to do the fire. If they aren’t yet in Bnei Akiva or they aren’t old enough for their own fire, then you are left in charge.

What’s to like?

This year, for the first time, I started to see that there is something to like about the Lag B’Omer fires. It has been quite nice for me to find a way to enjoy the holiday and the surrounding pyrofest. 

Here is what I’ve learned.

Josh pointed out last night that there are two special things about Lag B’Omer, neither of which I had ever considered. He called it the “only truly Zionist holiday” since it’s observed with such fervor in Israel, but is a barely visible blip on the calendar in the rest of the world. In tandem with this, it’s the only truly non-denominational holiday that we have.

Let me explain.

Almost every child in Israel celebrates Lag B’Omer and this includes the most Haredi to the most secular. Show me another holiday during the year where this is the case. Even Yom Ha’azmaut isn’t celebrated as widely, and certainly the religious holidays aren’t observed by as many kids.  While there are obviously some bonfires around the world (my friend took a picture of herself at one in Cyprus last night!), it’s not a broadly celebrated holiday outside of Israel.

This is what makes it unique and interesting.

Even more so, my children spend weeks – literally weeks – gathering wood and setting up for their bonfires.   This means that, in the weeks before Lag B’Omer, they are outside all afternoon and into the evening with their friends. They are being social, active, productive (in a way) and entertained.

Last minute wood collection before the fun begins!
Thankfully, our kids lead active, social lives but even they enjoy watching TV and playing with the computer. But when they are preparing for Lag B’Omer, they aren’t sitting inside on a computer screen.

In today’s anti-social world filled with screens and ‘friends’ through social media,  these activities have real value.

Hopefully, during their wood gathering, they are also learning what it means not to steal, how to avoid scratching cars, how to make sure they include everyone and other lessons.

On the night of Lag B’Omer, they learn about team work as they set the fire up together with their friends and divide up the food needs for the evening. And then they spend the evening singing songs, sitting around the fire, laughing and talking.

My littlest guy with his best friends at their small fire.
This morning Josh and I went out for a very early morning walk and we came across our older boys as they were wrapping up their fires. It is definitely a weird feeling to see your children out in the morning light, when you’re starting your day and they’re finishing theirs.

What I saw, however, made me quite proud. They were cleaning up the area with over a dozen bags of trash. They were safely putting out the fires and carefully making sure that everything was finished and cleared.  When they finished, they were headed off in their stinky clothes and soot-covered faces to shul to daven the morning prayers.

In a world where so many kids feel isolated, where they are bored, and where they spend day and night on electronic devices, I’ll take Lag B’Omer.

Because these are the memories that will last them a lifetime and that allow them to feel like they are part of something special, unique and their Land.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I Remember You

This was first posted last night on the Times of Israel blog. We remember on Israel Remembrance Day.

I remember you, Koby. It was the Spring of 2001 when you were murdered while hiking through the wadi near your home. I remember you, Koby, and the day they were searching for you. I clutched my new baby, my first baby, to my chest and prayed that they would find you. Until they did. And then, soon after, when your father came to speak in Washington DC, I vowed to my husband through my never-ending tears that we would have as many children as we could have.

I remember you, Yosef. I was teaching your sisters and had only recently made Aliyah when you died during a training exercise; when you died while saving the life of your superior during the jump. I remember standing in the shul in Efrat with the thousands upon thousands of others and watching your sisters try to keep themselves together through their anguish.

I remember you, Segev. I awoke the morning after to a text message from the yishuv, from Neve Daniel, that I was sure I was reading incorrectly. It couldn’t be that such tragedy, that such horror had befallen my neighbors; such gentle, quiet souls. I called one of my neighbors, fluent in Hebrew, and knew that I was reading correctly when he couldn’t speak. When he only cried into the phone. I remember you.

I remember you Ruth, Udi, Yoav, Elad and Hadas. My baby was nuzzling at the breast at the same time that yours was that night, and my Bnei Akiva son was out having fun, as was your daughter. There are no words to describe what you endured, no words to make better what occurred. But as I awoke the next morning and you didn’t, I remembered you. And I will continue to remember you. All of you.

I remember you, Ezra. I was watching my son’s horseback riding lesson and another son was supposed to be at the Tzomet exactly when you were. But he wasn’t. And you were. And I remember watching the ambulances race along route 60, racing to save your already vanished young life. And I remember you, Yaacov, a man of such joy, of such love and faith. I remember you.

I remember you Dafna, as you fought for your life and used your last energy to keep your family safe. And you, Eliav, who share my son’s name. You aren’t here to see your newest son, born just recently to your wife in Karmei Tzur. But I will remember you.

I remember you Nidan, Adele, Shalom, Malachi, Alexander, Eitam, Naama, Aharon, Nehemia, Chaim, Alon, Yeshayahu, Omri, Habtom, Avraham, Rabbi Haim, Richard, Benjamin, Netanel, Yaakov, Reuven and Aharon.

I remember you.

I remember you Moshe, Yitzhak, Yossi, Eliyahu, Asher, Yonatan, Netanel, Maor, Said, Yitzchak, Amir, Elior, Kochava, Mustafa, Itzik, Mirah, Aharon, Gal, Tomer, Eden, Baruch, Shelly, Naftali, Gilad and Eyal.

I remember you.

And I will continue to remember you and preserve your name, to picture your face and to think of your accomplishments for as long as I am able.

Yesterday, by chance, my five year old asked me what tears are. Are there buckets behind your eyes holding those tears, Mommy? Do they ever dry up?

Indeed. Do they ever dry up? Does it ever stop?

Today, tomorrow there appears to be no end. And on so many days this is true.

I remember you. I really do.