Lag B'Omer is fast approaching, and with it my children's latest obsession.
Allow me to explain. About two years ago I came home from synagogue, and announced my latest crazy idea to my family -- move to Israel! To put this in context my last crazy idea I had before this was to learn to climb walls using only my lips, and embark on a double life as a costumed vigilante. So we were all rather surprised when the moving to Israel idea turned out to be a rather good one. The housing market in sunny North Miami Beach where we lived had swollen and become bloated to a bursting point. Indeed, market analysists now point to the signing of the contract for the sale our house as the exact millisecond when the market burst in Florida.
By August we were on the plane, and have found much has changed in the land of Milk and Honey since we last lived here 10 years ago. Primarily we've found that Israelis are REALLY nice! They've been helpful, polite and courteous. If it wasn't for a big sign that said Welcome to Israel at the airport, I would have assumed we got on the wrong plane. I'm putting down the change in temperament to the advent of the internet, which is the other great change in Israel, which makes it oh so more livable for us shallow new immigrants. If I can order whatever merchandise I want online, download the latest ‘Survivor' and IM my friends and former neighbors, there's really no difference from spending all day sitting in my home office in Miami or Jerusalem. Except of course the view is much better.
Well, that and the fact that God lives here.
But, I digress. There are, of course, cultural differences that one needs to acclimate to, not least of these is parenting. Children's fads in Israel differ greatly from those in America. They range from the insanely dangerous (for example, juggling broken glass or setting oneself on fire), to the incredibly innocent (playing with marbles, or collecting grass).
This time of the year the fad is collecting wood, and lots of it!
One begins counting the days from the second day of Passover until the holiday of Shavuot. This period of counting is called the Omer, and lasts for 50 days, the 33rd day of which, is known as Lag B'Omer. It's a deeply spiritual day, when the nation remembers Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's immense self sacrifice in the face of unbelievable danger which culminated in an ultimate divine revelation of Torah just before his death.
And of course what better way of commemorating this event than by roasting marshmallows!
What better way of commemorating Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's immense self sacrifice than by roasting marshmallows!
Kids build bonfires, and boy do they build them! The marshmallows may be a newer addition to the festivities, but who really knows. Another equally strong contingent of the Jewish world believes it is hotdogs that one should cook over the open flames, and not the marshmallow, which they claim is the dandruff of Satan.
This discord doesn't stop the kids though; they've been collecting wood for months. Initially I assumed that there was some organization allocating space and coordinating this underage pyromania. Oh how I do laugh at my own innocence. No, children of all ages just find an empty space and build their sacrificial pyres wherever they like. So, piles of wood have been sprouting up all over the place, and they've grown.
And grown. Rivaling Noah's ark in many cases, these wicker fire violations have begun to tower into the sky.
And don't delude yourselves that there's any sense of fair play. My son spent two hours hauling a tree back to our house with a friend of his, only to have it stolen ten feet from his secret wood hiding place (which I don't have the security clearance to access apparently). The many building projects going on in my neighborhood have taken to employing heightened security procedures to protect their lumber. With no regulating body on hand to oversee security, profiling is rampant, and the under eights are scrutinized with a beady eye.
Help is at hand for my son, however, in the form of a kindly Israeli relative. He's got a friend who is a builder, and with a truckload of old wood that he's delivering to us next week, my son's street cred will soar. Forget your Nintendo's, iPods and Power Rangers. Discard your Barbies, robot dogs and Bionicles. The current hot toy here in Israel is wood.
Until that is, the day after Lag B'Omer, when normality will show its face and attempt to reassert its influence on the world. Who knows what the next fad will be? If there's any logic to the world it'll be fashionable bandages for third degree burns.