The last time the pungent stench of fire struck me as I walked the streets of Israel, it was a time of tragedy and shame. Northern Israel was burning, innocent people had perished, and Israel was exposed as grossly unprepared to deal with a disaster of that magnitude. It was as heartbreaking as it was embarrassing.

Saturday night, five months after the horrible Northern fires, the air was once again saturated with the fragrance of flames, but with a distinctly different message. Israel was up all night partying, celebrating the Lag Ba’Omer holiday, with its trademark bonfire anchoring each and every festivity across the country. Lag Ba’Omer has been said to commemorate a number of things, one of them being the Bar Kochva Rebellion. The message of the Bar Kochva Rebellion was one of a resilient Jewish people, unwilling to succumb to the slaughter of their people at the hands of the Romans, without a fight. It is the most prominent examples of Jewish self defense, serving as an inspiration for the Jewish underground in Pre-State Israel as well as the IDF. It bluntly told the world that the Jewish people will not be wiped off the face of the earth, and we will to fight to ensure that. I believe that on Lag Ba’Omer 2011, we experienced a modern day manifestation of this message, giving us a newfound sense of dignity and cause for exaltation as we gathered around the bonfires, which were shooting the flames of Jewish resilience and dignity into the night sky.

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US President Barak Obama’s Middle East speech Thursday was not entirely shocking. His leanings towards the Palestinians thus far in his presidency have been far from secret. While what Obama said has grabbed all the headlines, I, along with many other Israelis, ended their Shabbat observance and witnessed the truly noteworthy speech of the weekend. Sitting next to Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to buckle to intense pressure from within and without. He calmly sat next to a man who has made a political career of articulate orating and out-pontificated him. Simply, clearly, and defiantly, Bibi defended Israel’s positions on returning to the 1967 borders, as well as dealing with Hamas and the “Palestinian refugee problem”, with sheer eloquence and diplomatic grace.

Waiting for a bus in Jerusalem, listening to the audio of Bibi standing his ground from within the depths of the White House, I swelled with pride, all the while, the flames of Bar Kochva slowly began creeping their way into my nostrils.

Whether you believe Obama’s speech was a shift in US Policy or not (I certainly do), or whether or not you fear Bibi will soon begin to soften his position (he may already have begun) is not important. What is important is that, for one night, the night on which we venerate the message of Bar Kochva, when we told the world in no uncertain terms that the Jewish people will not stand idly by as the world tries to erase them from history, Bibi gave us a regenerated hope and belief that the State of Israel is fully committed to being the beacon of this ideal.

With the smoky air following the Northern fires lasting far after the flames were extinguished, it was near impossible to shake off the sentiments of sadness and shame for a long time. This Sunday morning, with the sky still rich with the aromas of the bonfires, I savor every last scent of the embers of Jewish pride and eternality wafting my way.


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