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Top Five

Light that fire

Melt a marshmallow, gather some wood, cut your hair: it’s Lag B’Omer

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Throwing boards onto the growing bonfire in Ramat Gan. (photo credit: Chen Leopold/Flash 90)
Throwing boards onto the growing bonfire in Ramat Gan. (photo credit: Chen Leopold/Flash 90)

The pre-bonfires have already begun, although that particular miasma of burning wood, tin-foiled potatoes and singed marshmallows hasn’t filled the air quite yet; that will have to wait until Saturday night, when the official celebrations of Lag B’Omer start, marking the 33rd day in the counting of the Omer.

No matter, of course, as kids have already been gathering splintered planks of wood for weeks, amassing wooden altars in preparation for the massive bonfires assembled to commemorate the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman Empire.

It’s one of those holidays where everyone can join in, some less enthusiastically than others (“Yuval, please don’t throw the deck chairs in the fire!”), but with the added benefits of being a non-religious holiday, making it a pluralistic experience in the land. Keep an eye out for stray arrows (playing with bows and arrows is another Lag B’Omer tradition), and check out these top five ways to consider the 33rd day of the Omer.

1) Before we get to the fun stuff, there are more than a few parents who are peeved about this year’s two-day Lag B’Omer school break. With bonfires usually held late into the night of the holiday, schoolkids traditionally have no school on the following day, which is Lag B’Omer itself, but not this year. Since the evening of Lag B’Omer falls on Saturday night, the Education Ministry decided to “switch” bonfire night to Sunday night, so that people would not prepare their bonfires before Shabbat ends, and the kids are off school both Sunday and Monday. The ministry said the extra vacation day is for staff, who will be losing vacation days with school starting at the end of August, rather than September 1.

Protesting the two-day Lag b'Omer with Education Minister Shai Peron (Courtesy Yerushalmim)
Protesting the two-day Lag B’Omer with Education Minister Shai Peron (photo credit: Courtesy Yerushalmim)

Two days off from school for Lag B’Omer creates a host of dilemmas for parents, according to the official complaint posted by political party Yerushalmim, headed by Rachel Azaria. “It means a two-day vacation, and that parents have to find some kind of arrangement for the kids, or take a day off,” said Azaria, whose party created a petition they’ll be taking to Education Minister Shai Peron.

Calling it “Chofesh Gadol Aleinu,” a play on the term “chofesh hagadol,” as the long summer vacation is called, it means “the vacation is too long for us.” Or as other parents are calling the second day of Lag B’Omer break, “Isru Lag,” another play on the term “Isru Chag,” as the extra day of vacation after Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot is called.

A bundle of thyme (photo credit: Evan-Amos/Wiki Commons)
A bundle of thyme (photo credit: Evan-Amos/Wiki Commons)

2) Once you’ve reconciled yourself to two days of vacation and fires brightly burning, it pays to get into the spirit. For some of us, that’s best accomplished by focusing on the culinary aspects of the day. There are the fire-baked potatoes, traditionally wrapped in foil, thrown into the fire for an appropriate period of time, and then eaten as is. For a step up in spud treatment, consider this idea from Tiberias restaurant Decks: They serve sweet potatoes or yams cooked on an open fire, topped with sauteed portobello mushrooms sprinkled with salt and balsamic vinegar. And to keep the mosquitoes and bugs away from the group huddled around the fire, tie a bundle of sage leaves (lavender or thyme would work too) and toss it into the flames.

A traditional S'more, graham crackers sandwiching melted marshmallows and a square of chocolate (photo credit: Codeman125 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0)
A traditional S’more, graham crackers sandwiching melted marshmallows and a square of chocolate (photo credit: Codeman125 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0)

3) Want some S’mores, without having to actually venture out to a bonfire? Make S’mores pops, as created by food bloggers Joanne and Adam Gallagher.

Serves: 20 pops

  • 1 ½ cups bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 20 marshmallows
  • 6 graham crackers, crushed
  • 20 lollipop sticks or skewers
  • 5-6 plastic cups (helps when drying)
    1. Punch small holes, just large enough for the lollipop ticks to slide through, into the bottom of the plastic cups. Turn upside down.
    2. Add chocolate chips to a microwave-safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 20 seconds. Remove the bowl and stir the chocolate chips. Place the bowl back into the microwave for another 20 seconds and stir again. Repeat process until melted.
    3. Working quickly, dip each marshmallow into the chocolate and sprinkle with crushed graham crackers. Slide the S’mores pops into the upside-down plastic cups prepared earlier to allow the chocolate to harden, about 10 minutes.
    4. Push 1 marshmallow onto each lollipop stick.
Anne Hathway's short hair look (photo credit: Jenn Deering Davis /[CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Anne Hathway’s short hair look (photo credit: Jenn Deering Davis /[CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

4) Along with the bows and arrows and bonfires, Lag B’Omer marks the more-than-halfway mark in the counting of the Omer, a semi-mourning period that starts during Passover and ends with Shavuot. While some observant Jews don’t attend weddings (or get married), listen to music, or shave and get haircuts during the Omer, those restrictions are lifted during Lag B’Omer, making it a particularly busy day for caterers and hairdressers. If you’re due for a trim, this could be the time to chop it all off. It’s the season of the short, gamine dos, ala Anne Hathaway, “Mad Men”‘s Elisabeth Moss and Rihanna, and while short hair does mean more frequent haircuts, it keeps things cooler during the hot summer.

5) With Lag B’Omer comes Israeli wedding season, and Lian Matias of the Hatunot (Hebrew for “Weddings”) blog has more than a few ideas for pumping up the party. Her recommendations?

a) “Bring yourself into your wedding day,” said Matias, and opt for a concept wedding, whether it’s “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Great Gatsby,” or butterflies. b) Personalize the chuppah itself by making the chuppah canopy, giving the ceremony more meaning and creating an heirloom that can be passed from sibling to sibling and down through the generations. c) Israel’s got some wonderful physical landscapes for an unusual wedding setting, from lazy beach-side horizons and grassy valleys to ancient alleyways in any number of “old cities” around the country. d) If you’re the bride, take advantage of Israel’s standing in wedding-dress design, with designers such as Inbal Dror, Vivi Bellaish and Zehavit Tshuba (not to mention Alon Livne, designer of Beyonce’s “Freakum Dress”). “Find your style,” said Matias.

A handmade chuppah from a Hatunot wedding (Courtesy Hatunot)
A handmade chuppah from a Hatunot wedding (photo credit: Courtesy Hatunot)

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