Lag BaOmer Tonight

Thousands of bonfires across the country tonight will mark Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer period, remembering Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Bar Kokhba.

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, | updated: 09:53

The minor holiday of Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost), commemorates three occasions: the end of a period of mourning for thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva who died in a plague, the anniversary of the death of Kabbalah-author Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, and Bar Kokhba's revolt against the Romans.

Lag BaOmer is marked most notably with traditional bonfires throughout the country. A tradition kept by Jewish children of all backgrounds in Israel, the bonfires represent the light of Torah, and especially that of the Kabbalah, brought to the world by Rabbi Shimon.

Israel's Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger, in his work B'Maagalei HaChayim, notes that the custom of playing with bows and arrows on this day is "apparently because tradition tied this date with the Bar Kokhba rebellion." A learned article on the subject by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper can be seen here.

Lag Baomer preparations:
The Electric Company has asked the public to make sure not to light bonfires near electric poles or boxes...

In several locations in the south, the firefighters have picked today to go on strike. Cities to be affected are Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi and Sderot. The striking workers have received only half of their April salaries, and their pension fund payments have not been made for a year...

The Jewish National Fund is preparing its own fire-fighting deployment, including 40 watch towers, dozens of scouts, and 25 special forest firetrucks. The JNF will also operate a national fire danger rating system, using weather data from the Meteorological Service to help it predict fire dangers in various areas. An eighth of the JNF's annual budget, or 13 million shekels, is invested in the war against fire in open areas and forests. Fire damage is estimated at 8 million shekels each year...

Some 850 fires broke out in the year 2004, burning over 10,000 dunams (close to 2,600 acres); in 42% of the cases, JNF scouts were the first to report the fires. 43% of the acreage was burnt in suspected arsons. The JNF has re-issued fire-safety regulations in honor of Lag BaOmer.

A special Lag BaOmer bonfire is planned for tonight in Sa-Nur, one of the four communities the Sharon government has slated for uprooting. A convoy of private cars will set off from the Megido Junction near Afula to Sa-Nur at 6:30 PM, kicking off the festivities. The organizers describe the event as the "fire of determination and hope, the one that has been burning since the days of Bar Kokhba and that will continue to burn for 'as long as within our hearts... our eyes are turned towards Zion' [from Israel's national anthem]."