Two Celebratory Holidays

This year Lag B’Omer and Memorial Day are three days apart. Interestingly, both holidays have similar themes: people died, let’s have a barbecue.

Lag B’Omer is the anniversary of the death of Torah sage Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai. It also commemorates Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students who stopped dying from a mysterious plague on this day. (However, one friend did say they stopped dying because there were none left, so he’s not sure what the celebration is about). I was once in Israel on Lag B’Omer; there are bonfires everywhere. I have always wondered how the country, being so dry, manages not to burn itself down on this day. Batya shows a campfire being built here.

It sounds like the day is not without problems, as rabbis recently warned:

Lag Ba’omer bonfire fans should be careful not to cause monetary or environmental damage in their enthusiasm to celebrate, cautioned the two Israeli chief rabbis in an announcement.

“When God created Adam he took him and showed him all the trees in Gan Eden,” quoted rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger from ancient homiletic literature (Kohelet Raba). “God said to him, ‘Look at all my creations, how magnificent they are. All that I have created is for you. Be sure not to destroy my world, because if you do there is no one who can repair it.”
However, preparations for Lag Ba’omer, such as the gathering of wood and other combustibles, often involve the stealing of private property by overly enthusiastic children. In addition, the large amount of smoke emitted by the fires is detrimental to the environment.

In addition, just before and during Lag Ba’omer, Magen David Adom receives double the regular number of calls from children and teenagers who have been accidentally burned or hurt preparing bonfires.

The chief rabbis urged the Jews of Israel to be careful with their bonfires to prevent unnecessary damage. They also called for the public to be scrupulous in protecting private property.

In America, we often forget why we celebrate holidays. What’s this one for? Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service.

Memorial Day in Highland Park is a lot of fun because the annual parade. In the past, when my son was a Cub Scout (and for four years I was the Den Mother), we would march together down Raritan Avenue:

Memorial Day Parade 2004
This is the 2004 Memorial Day Parade. I’m wearing the orange t-shirt. Note the price of gas.

This year, however, my son is a Boy Scout, and he will be on Boy Scout Kinus, the weekend camping trip. He was disappointed to hear that the local Boy Scouts don’t march in the local parade because it conflicts with Kinus. I didn’t know he liked the march so much! All I remember are the complaints about needing to walk so far. And the complaints about being told by adults to smile at the crowds.

Are you celebrating either holiday? Any interesting plans?

19 thoughts on “Two Celebratory Holidays

  • No, no celebrations here, sigh!
    I was a brownie, a girl scout, and also a leader (both for cubs and brownies). In Scotland I seem to remember that I was Snowy Owl 🙂

  • Khal Chassidim here in Highland Park is having a lag b’omer seudah (meal) followed by an indoor fire. The event starts with Maariv at 9:10PM. Women and kids are also welcome. I’d rather not publish the address, anyone interested contact me at llennhoff at yahoo dot com.

  • My kids have been collecting wood for weeks. They think they’re are going to be setting up their own fire, feeding it and then cooking over it. Yeah, right.

    I’ve been warned to close all windows and trissim and to bring any laundry in. Kids with asthma will really suffer tonight.

  • Robin mentioned the asthma problem on her blog. Nice to party, but you don’t want anyone to get hurt.

    Larry, I may try to come and bring a friend. No promises. (Bli Neder? no, it’s more like a maybe maybe).

    Ilana-Davita, I was a Girl Scout, too. But these kids have it much better. Kosher weekends in the woods are great.

  • My brother-in-law and his soon-to-be-fiance(we hope) will be coming to visit and we are going to have a barbecue on Sunday.

    Wow, $1.99 for gas! None of us knew how lucky we were…

  • $1.99 for gas!? wow. I hadn’t put the two holidays together like this but it was a great connection — you’re right…! thanks.

  • (However, one friend did say they stopped dying because there were none left, so he’s not sure what the celebration is about).
    This week’s Yated Neeman’s Halacha Talk column mentions that one reason for celebrating Tu B’av is that on that day the Jews realized that everyone who was going to die for the sin of the spies (the generation of the desert, over 20 at the time of the sin) had done so. They suggested the end of the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students was analogous. I see it differently, but if you look at the issue from the PoV of the survivors, then at least you know you aren’t going to be mourning the death of talmedi chachmim every single day any more.

    Personally I regard the death of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students as punishment for the second 12 years he stayed away from his wife. For each year he should have been part of a pair, he lost 1000 pairs of students. This is a daat yachid (lone view) on my part.

  • Yes, Larry, thanks for more (ahem)clarification on the issue of why we celebrate death. Glad you appreciate that couples should be couples!

    Let me know if you want to do a guest post on some Shavuot-related topic. Hope last night went well.

  • Last night was a lot of fun. I have an essay on my blog that is Shavuot appropriate – I will reread it and see if I can add enough new to republish it here.

  • Yes, Lion of Zion, that was in Larry’s comment. I’m working on making him an occasional guest poster.

    Self-promotion is fine, as long as you are not selling mortgages or cheap drugs. I’ll read through your Tu B’Av post more carefully in the summer so I can get some good posting ideas at that time (and of course, give credit to the inspiration source).

    (FYI, I had to fish your comment out of Akismet span. Again. Sigh.)

  • contrast btw memorial day in america and israel so striking
    If you were to go back in time to a memorial day a year after the American Civil War, I think the grief felt might be more similar to that felt in Israel.

    Nowadays we basically pay others to fight for us (thank you, troops), and the fighting is done on foreign soil. We don’t feel it the same way the Israelis do. I don’t think Americans are callous, just in a better position.

  • as i was typing in that comment, i was wondering if even today american memorial day has a different feel in small rural towns or parts of the country where enlistment was/is higher

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