Fire Brigades Had Nothing to Fear: Festival of Bonfires Was No Threat
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Fire Brigades Had Nothing to Fear: Festival of Bonfires Was No Threat

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Lag B’Omer, the traditional festival marking the 33rd day of the seven-week Omer period between Pesach and Shavuot, was not the nightmare anticipated by fire brigades throughout Israel this year.

Unanticipated rains in the mountains and less severe winds than expected throughout the country kept the feared brushfires at bay. And vigilant firefighters averted any fire emergencies.

The fire brigades had been on maximum alert since Saturday night, in anticipation of many fires they feared they would have to contend with, lit by sparks from thousands of bonfires kindled by youngsters during picnics.

The firefighters had been particularly attentive to possible trouble because tens of thousands of students were idled by a teachers strike and therefore free to roam the countryside and possibly start fires in vacant lots and building sites.

Record piles of timber, in fact, were abundant everywhere. But the fierce Sharav wind from the East forecast by the meteorological service failed to be as severe as predicted, and the timber was not as dry as had been feared.

Indeed, fewer fires than usual got out of hand, and there were few related emergencies.

But the bonfires, and the holiday festivities, had one marked consequence. They upended teachers’ plans for a one-day hiatus in their ongoing strike.

The Teachers Association had decided to order its members back to the classrooms for Sunday only, despite the fact that Lag B’Omer is known as the Students Holiday. (The holiday’s origin is the cessation of a severe plague that decimated the students of first-century Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai.)


The planned one-day return had been decided to comply with a Labor Court injunction last year which ordered teachers to give back to the Education Ministry a day’s work lost in a previous strike.

Nevertheless, large numbers of students failed to show up for classes Sunday, many of them having overslept after a sleepless night around the bonfires. And others who did show up did so bleary-eyed straight from the blazes, with eyes reddened by smoke.

Meanwhile, heavy rain in the mountains dampened the usually vibrant and mystic religious observances of the 33rd day of the Omer. Police reported that far fewer than an anticipated quarter of a million observant Jews gathered at the tomb of Rabbi Bar-Yochai in Galilee because of a deluge at the mountaintop tomb.

But the inclement weather did not deter barren women from praying for children at the tomb.

The unexpected and unpredicted rain was also a dampener for many of the weddings arranged for Saturday night and Sunday. Lag B’Omer is the only day in the seven-week Omer period on which marriages can be solemnized by halachah, or traditional Jewish law.

Observant Jews also do not cut their hair during the 50-day Omer period except for on Lag B’Omer. And so hundreds of 3-year-old boys had their first haircuts and first trimming of “payot” (earlocks) with the clippings collected by their proud fathers for safekeeping by their mothers.

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