I have a friend who has more energy than the Energizer Bunny. Some years ago, perhaps four years after her aliyah, when I was still living in Baltimore, I spoke to her on a Sunday.
"Are you feeling okay?" I asked. "You don''t sound like yourself."
"I''m so tired, " she said.
"Tired? I''ve never heard you describe yourself that way. Why are you so tired?"
"Well, I was up until 3 AM, waiting for my kids to come home." she said, matter-of-factly.
I was puzzled. "Why in the world were your kids out so late??"
"They were out till all hours with their friends, building bonfires. You know, Lag b''Omer...."
I slapped my forehead with the heel of my palm. If she hadn''t told me, Lag b''Omer would have come and gone without me really noticing. And that''s when it hit me. Jewish life in Israel really IS richer.
The very first Lag B''Omer fire my eyes set upon in Israel, one which I smelled before I saw. Bigger ones came later in the evening, but this was my very first.
This year, my first Lag b''Omer in Israel, began right after Shabbat ended. There was an open-air Shlomo Katz/Chaim David concert in the basketball court next to where our shul davens. I walked around with a huge smile on my face, making small talk, astonished at how many people we already know in our new community, and how many of them have ties to Baltimore.
Some of our neighbors dancing to the music.
After the concert, we drove around Ma''ale Adumim to see how the bonfires were going in other parts of the city. There were fields and fields with 4, 6, 8 or 10 fires, each a few meters from one another. We must have seen 60 or 70 individual fires on a quick drive through the city.
If only my camera was as good as my eyes.
In the weeks before Lag b''Omer, we saw kids (mostly boys.... okay, exclusively boys, but I''m sure there were some girls involved too) walking around with, ahem... borrowed grocery carts filled with sticks and broken wooden furniture and anything else that might burn.
A modest haul.
There were all kinds of fires, from ones that could really be called bonfires...
To ones that are more accurately described as campfires, like this one, obviously built by a boy scout:
Notice the stones surrounding the fire to help contain it.
This surprised me. People dragged couches, plastic chairs, tables and mattresses to sit by the fire. I''m gonna guess it was mostly the adults who furnished the bonfires.
Sorry it''s so dark, but can you find the broken down couch and the plastic chairs in the bottom of the photo?
...and even the ubiquitous mangal, which I think is being used here to barbecue potato slices. Yum.
I did end the evening with a scratchy throat from the smoke, but there was joy in my heart from so many groups of Jews, gathered together to celebrate with fire, to match the fire in their souls.
And in the morning, cleanup begins.