TZFAT, ISRAEL - Some 40 Ethiopian 12-year-old olim recently celebrated the fiery Lag B'Omer holiday with a festive bonfire held near the Tzahal Absorption Center in Tzfat in northern Israel, as part of their studies towards their upcoming group bar and bat-mitzvah.
Youth counselor Ya'akov Yasiyes, himself a veteran Ethiopian oleh now in his 40s, and a group of several other counselors on Wednesday afternoon led the busload of happy campers to a clearing just outside of the hilltop town for the event. There, after a raucous circle singalong to get their spirits up, they spread out into the nearby forest to forage for fallen tree branches for the fire, one of thousands to be lit across Israel to commemorate Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, a first-century Talmudic sage, traditionally considered to be the author of the mystic Zohar guide to Kabbalah.
Yasiyes, who made Aliyah at age 16, and has worked with the center for 12 years, lauded the generous British donors who, through the UJIA, make the annual bar and bat-mitzvah event possible.
Yasiyes told The Jewish Agency for Israel that today's group experienced a totally different - and hopefully smoother - Aliyah process than what he went through.
"There's no comparison between their experiences and mine," he said. "It's totally different," he added, noting that even the pre-aliyah preparation in Ethiopia has undergone rethinking and revision over the decades.
"When we were kids in the village in Ethiopia, we weren't familiar with the celebrations that accompany such a life-cycle event," he pointed out. "It's kind of a shame we were never taught about the joyful occasion," he admitted, with a wistful shrug.
"But, thank God, here in Israel, we're making up for all that," he added with a grin, while in the background, the children - some for the first time ever - toasted white and pink marshmallows over the bonfires' ashy remains.