What is it with Jews and fire?
We're hopeless but we can't keep away.
The siren song of the fickle flickering flames beckons us. And now we are nearly upon the mother of all Jewish fires- Lag B'Omer.
It's not enough that we risk immolation every week, not only with shabbos candles, or, better, oil lamps; no, we also have the blech on the gas flame which burns for 26 hours. And every festival demands the 48 hour yohrzeit candle, used to light the festival candles.
And of course every yohrzeit calls for its candle. Flickering naked flames dot the year. And Chanukah of course; especially when every kid in the household has his or her own menorah to light, and then the smoke alarm goes off.
Then we build up to the burning of the chametz, which every year brings its share of disaster. Jews! You cannot build a fire for the purpose of burning chametz and then shove plastic bags of bread into it. Do not burn plastic! Toxic fumes! And don't nearly smother the fire and then decide, thinking it a stroke of genius, to revive the fire with accelerant! You will blow yourself up, for real. And yet, every year otherwise quite intelligent people do this. If they're lucky they only singe their forearms and maybe lose an eyebrow or two.
But all of this petty chometz toasting is nothing compared to the Lag B'Omer bonfire. I've been to Israel for Lag B'Omer and I am totally amazed that entire neighborhoods don't go up in smoke. The kids scout the locale for weeks before looking for anything combustible. You see them with their little wagons and wheelbarrows, multiple siblings down to about 2 year olds, scavenging building sites for bits of timber, parkland for dry twigs, rubbish dumps for furniture legs, anything. And on the big night, it all gets piled on and of course on goes the accelerant and WHOOOSH, huge conflagrations around which everyone dances like imps in Hell. It's insane and terrifying and all I can say is that the Israeli firefighters, who are for sure on high alert, are doing a sterling job of saving Jews from their own pyromania. I bet they just roll their eyes every time they are called out. I can just imagine:
'Od paam im haNeft, achi?' 'Again with the kerosene? What's it going to take? Burn down the whole street and melt the road? Put your kids in hospital? Enough already with the damn bonfires!'
And then they go back to the station to their mangale, which is a barbecue grill set over, you guessed it, open flame. There is no celebration in Israel that doesn't involve a mangale. At least nobody puts accelerant on that fire, because the meat would taste disgusting.
Jews and fire. Not a good mix. So this year, please be careful and don't do anything stupid. You don't need bloody Vesuvius just to toast marshmallows.
PS Can someone remind me why we do this in the first place?