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The Bonfires of Lag BaOmer

By: Tessy Agassi

These past few weeks have been a wonderful new experience for me. Since assuming my new position as Assistant Director of CFOIC Heartland, I have met many interesting and new people and have been exposed to the amazing community of Christians who love Israel. I have had the honor to personally meet several groups and to feel first-hand the love and passion that we share for Judea and Samaria. I am so happy to have begun this new and fascinating journey and hope you will join me as we travel along together.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Tessy Agassi and I was born and raised in Petach Tikva, a city not far from Tel Aviv. I am married to Adiel and together we have four beautiful children, one daughter and three sons. We moved to Western Samaria three years ago to a community called Leshem. We love our relatively new home and feel deeply connected to the area.

Our community is one of the fastest growing communities in Judea and Samaria. We have 280 families and 780 children. There is an elementary school, eight kindergartens and three daycare centers.  And for all of the hundreds of Leshem children, last week was an exciting one. We celebrated Lag BaOmer, an ancient Jewish holiday that connects us to the events of the Bar Kochba Rebellion, the last Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire which came to a tragic end in the year 135.  In Israel, we celebrate the day by lighting bonfires, reminiscent of bonfires that were used by the ancient rebels to send signals to one another.  Today, the bonfires are pure fun, as children and adults gather around, roast potatoes and hot dogs, sing songs and just enjoy the warm fire against the usually cool night air.

As soon as Passover ends, you can see children searching every available empty lot and field, looking for sticks and wooden boards that they can use for the bonfire when the big day comes. Parents and teachers caution the children not to enter private property and not to take any building material from the many construction sites that are all around our expanding community and they carefully comply. As the days go by it becomes a great operation. The children are so busy figuring out how to carry the wood, often using abandoned shopping carts and broken baby strollers.  Then they have to figure out where to store the wood, simultaneously marking out the spot for “their” bonfire.

My children have been so excited, counting the days until last Wednesday.  They had made great plans with their friends. My husband had promised them a big bonfire in the empty lot behind our house. Dreaming of roasted marshmallows and fiery hot potatoes, they jumped out of their beds ready to party.

Sadly, I had to tell them that this year we would not be able to build the bonfire after all. I couldn’t look at their disappointed faces, but I had no choice. This year the weather was so bad, incredibly hot with the desert dry wind blowing at record speeds, what is known in Hebrew as a Sharav, that the Fire Department had issued a public announcement cancelling all planned bonfire activities. After weeks of anticipation, children all over Israel, and of course in Leshem, were crushed.

After overcoming the crying and yelling of our own four disappointed children, we convinced them to celebrate with an indoor fake fire. We put the silver foil covered potatoes in the oven and burnt the marshmallows on the stove. We sat on a blanket in the middle of our living room and pretended to enjoy the warm fire. In the end, I think we all had a fun time and the bonus was that no one smelled like smoke.

But my children were not totally satisfied.  Even though they had a good time, they made me promise that on the next holiday coming up, Jerusalem Day, we would have a proper celebration. And the plans are already underway.  We are all going on a trip to the Old City of Jerusalem with a visit to the Kotel,  the Western Wall. Now I’m the excited one. I always love dancing with everyone in the streets of Jerusalem, waving flags and singing songs of praise as we celebrate the great miracle of the liberation of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in 1967.  I always used to participate in the festivities as a teenager but as family and responsibilities came along with the years, I haven’t been able to go for so long.  Now, my children have ensured that we will all participate on the special day.

If any of you are planning on being in Israel on the 13th of May – make sure to join us in Jerusalem.  It will be a special day to remember!  And please, I’d love to hear from you.  Send me an email so we can start getting to know one another.  I know that we will have lots to talk about it since we all love the G-d of Israel, and the Land of Israel.