Op-ed It is time to stop damaging the environment, wrecking public spaces, endangering the children and move the bonfires over to the smartphone

Anat Lev-Adler 05.25.16on

There aren’t many things that I hate in this world. I could count them on my fingers and might have a few left. And even so, I can still find good in things I consider bad and unnecessary. But kill me—after 48 years on this planet and 18 years as a mother—if I can find even an ounce of good on that day of the year called Lag BaOmer, a day on which we light bonfires and celebrate until we lose sight of right and wrong.

Even as a girl, and then as a teenager, I couldn’t understand what the big deal was about setting wooden planks on fire during the night, eating charred potatoes that taste like sand, and returning home smelling of grilled chicken. Anyone who knows me knows that the top thing on my “hate list” is all things chicken.

Still, to this day, I don’t understand my children’s enthusiasm for this unnecessary holiday: the hysteria of gathering good and bad planks of wood, those with the rusty nails or poisonous formica plastic, and, in some cases, paying for them at full price at Home Center or ACE (I’m serious. I’m looking at you, Ramat HaSharon, northern Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituach). I also cannot understand the custom of stealing supermarket carts to carry the heavy wooden planks. (Ask the children where they hide the carts and most of them will tell you it’s in their garden, behind their homes or in the bomb shelters.)

I also don’t get the bonfires that release poisonous emissions into the atmosphere that can suffocate a person (because yet another child threw an empty plastic bottle into the fire). Then there are the unfortunate souls who come home from work late only to discover that their clean laundry, which they left drying on the line outside, has absorbed a stench that can only be removed by passing it again and again through a rinse and spin.

Jewish mythology maintains that we celebrate the festival of fire and smoke out of respect for the Jewish hero Bar Kochba and his courageous rebellion . The bonfires recall his way of communicating with his troops during the fighting. So we’re talking here about communications. When it comes to communicating, we are indeed the best in the world. So why not grasp the idea that Lag BaOmer was never intended to be a day of mass blazing fires which leave behind rubble and huge circles of coal and smoke?

Bar Kochba did not burn anything in any fire. He simply tried to maintain contact. So let’s return to being in contact with the sane people among us and change the holiday symbols and activities to something far less damaging. Because as long as we don’t modify this custom, this night, on which hundreds of thousands of children with planks, branches and textbooks (which they can’t wait to burn after their high-school matriculation exams) will charge to tranquil sea shores, buildings and public gardens and turn them into stifling smoking chimneys. It’s the worst kind of an environmental disaster.

If the entire moral of the story is simply about communicating with comrades on the battlefield, why not pool together Jewish brains and invent a bonfire smartphone app, activate it during the festival on Wednesday night from our living room couches, and share it on social media? Afterall, almost all of our contact with each other in recent times has been in digital form anyway.