Happy Lag BaOmer - Black potatoes jumping in the fire
Voices of excited children are all around, adults smiling and all are very busy collecting wood, dry shrubs and branches from different trees, logs, newspapers, and even furniture (a great way to get rid of broken pieces one wants to donate). The collecting started even before the day of the bonfire event.
Those were THE bonfires of the year. It was a spectacular site to see the first flames, it looked almost like fireworks, but had the special sound you hear when wood is crackling and burning.
That was one of the best Holidays we enjoyed growing up as children and adults.
That was our holiday Lag BaOmer, it’s the 33rd day counting of the Omer. The counting started from the second day of Passover until Shavuot, a total of seven weeks (49 days)
Lag BaOmer was everyone’s favorite holiday.
We had a custom of the potatoes. We put plain potatoes at the bottom of the bonfire and let them roast.
The trick was to know when to get them out of the fire that by then had became quiet, soft and small. The potatoes had to be cooked, which meant they became black and covered by the fire’s ashes. Which brought us to the challenge of how to take them out, without burning ourselves in the darkness of the night by the dim light of the fire.
But the biggest challenge of it all was the art of holding a juggling and hot potato in our hands, wait for the potato to cool down just enough to crack it. We all enjoyed the hot steaming black potatoes that were soft and tasted smoky from the ashes.
That was a treat worth waiting for.
Did you ever experience that?
But that was only the beginning of the evening for the teenagers among us. Once that party was over we all went to the Dunes, that were about 10 miles from the ocean (now all you can see are high rise buildings).
We created what we call in Israel “kumzits” . We made a fire that was small enough to sit around, talk, stare at the fire, roast some potatoes. Someone always had a guitar we all listened to, and at time sang songs, and of course it was time for couples. I have to mention we were very naïve teens.
The most important part was to stay up all night. It felt like a big achievement.
These days, starting with the hot and dry days of that season, where Israel experience a big wave of natural fires that burns wild, it is forbidden to making fires. I was just talking to a friend who painfully said “I miss those days”. I hope we will be able to share it again soon, especially for the next generations to come.
To add fuel to the fire, we are at uncertain, unfamiliar, unpredictable times. Living with an invisible invader. We can’t leave our homes and enjoy the simplest things we used to take for granted.
But one thing no one can take from us. It is our own inner flame.
We celebrate Lag BaOmer to commemorate the passing of one of our greatest Rabbis, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who lived in the 2nd century in ancient Judea. He wrote the Zohar, the chief work of the Kabbalah - our book of mysticism and guide to enlightenment.
I believe we can still celebrate Lag BaOmer. We will not have any gathering, we won’t have bonfires, but we have ourselves and we have all of us together, one people, and one collective conscience.
It is customary to light a Yahrzeit candle (Ner Neshama in Hebrew), a special candle that burns for more than 24hrs. in honor and memory of loved ones.
Going through this eerie era, when so many are sick or not with us any longer, let’s add more candles for their Neshama (soul), maybe some with fragrance. You might feel and sense not only the brightness of the light but also the flame and its sense and warmth.
I feel It’s an appropriate time to take our Tallit, pray and meditate and even study.
Seeing all around me, I feel the world in a great need. Everything that was created on the six days of creation crying for help, including us. One of the things I believe we need to do the most, each in his own way and all of us together is Tikkun Olam. We need to heal our world. We are forced to be in isolation. We should take advantage of it and think, create, make do something for the healing. I feel it’s the spark, the flame within us, that can help us find the ways to make a difference.
On a lighter note, how about having an online gathering, the new “in” these days. Connect with family, friends and other loved ones. Each lighting its own candle or candles, all symbolizing the shining bright flames of the bonfire, rejoice and have a good time, pray together, have a great conversations with or without a glass of wine, make plans, uplift each other.
With my imagination I can see each of us lighting candles and placing them so they will appear at the corner of the screen you are using to participate (iPad, Laptop… etc) all pointing towards the middle of the screen, as a big bonfire so all light will create one or many flames together. Not sure how it will really look, but might be worth trying.
And of course, don’t forget the potatoes.
I just learned from a dear friend of mine, that you can actually buy a pot that will cook the potatoes and they will come out tasting just like the potatoes from the fire. What a great invention!
Did you grow up celebrating LaBaOmer?
How did you?
Did you have potatoes?
Tell us about it in the comments!