Lag B’Omer*

 

I took Maisie out this morning – it was beautiful, clear skies, a gentle breeze and the smell of smoke.

Yesterday was Guy Fawkes and fireworks were set-off late into the night, alongside these were bonfires across the country.

The smoke lingered this morning.

This took me back to when I was 12.

The festival of Lag B’Omer takes place each year sometime in May. It commemorates the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Kabbalistic sage who lived around the 2nd century. I won’t go into the origins of this festival as they are beyond my ken – what I will describe is the event which took place in 1986 not long after I had moved with my family to live in Israel.

I still hadn’t fully picked-up the language, but I was invited to a friend’s bonfire. Yoni. I don’t recall his surname or know what has become of him although I remember he had a very attractive sister and his parents were divorced. He also had an uncanny ability to spot and catch lizards and snakes – lightning-fast reflexes and a sharp eye.

Anyway, back in those days – I don’t know if this still happens, bonfires were lit across the country. Different to the UK, as this festival is in late spring – early summer, it is warm enough to sleep outside and keep the fire burning all night.

This means that by the next morning the resultant smog is several times thicker than that which I encountered this morning. It takes you back to what it must have been like to walk about Victorian London – or present day Shanghai (I imagine).

This isn’t the story though – the story is my memory of that night; there I was in the middle of nowhere** with my classmates; I remember Addy, Naftali and David being there – I can’t recall who else.

And, that night I somehow developed the worst tonsillitis of my life. I was feverish, no doubt delirious and not that able to communicate my situation. Were this to have happened today I would likely have either approached Yoni’s mum and asked her to call my mum (although we didn’t have a car we would have worked something out), or I would have called my mum on my phone – back then in the 80’s I had to sit it out.

The other two memories were of Yoni who had acquired bullets from somewhere – passing them round and us throwing them in the fire. I don’t know exactly what could have happened, but essentially, we would throw the bullet then run for cover. I imagine the shell would blow and the bullet would fly-off somewhere; perhaps not – I don’t know much about ballistics. No one was injured.

The final memory, before I set-off home back to the Absorption Centre where we were living, at probably five in the morning, was the others skipping over the fire, pissing into the flames. The acrid, nauseating aroma combined with my fever and sore throat, the fatigue, and, probable anxiety to create a stretching-out of time and a perception. Sheesh.

21st Century Guy Fawkes – how sanitised, how much a family thing. No bullets, no fever – not even the hint of a hallucination. Come on modern world!

 

*Lag B’Omer uses the Hebrew representation of letters as numbers – this means, L = lamed = 30 and G = gimmel = 3, the 33rd day in the Omer, which is the fifty days between the second day of Passover and the day before the start of the festival of Shavout – that is, the time we recall the period as slaves in Egypt and the festival of Tabernacles, or when we built shelters in the desert during our escape.

 

**Somewhere between Hertzilya and Ra’anana

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