Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"If a tree falls in the forest..." - Lag Ba'Omer and the Israeli Media

"If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound?" is a question that has been long debated, and yet, it remains as timely as ever as we celebrate Lag Ba'Omer this year, when the following question begs to be asked:

If 200,000 Jews show up in Meron to celebrate Lag Ba'Omer, but there is no Israeli media there to cover it, did it really happen?

The celebration of Lag Ba'Omer in Meron, located in Israel's Galil region, is believed to be the largest attended annual Jewish celebration in the world. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Jews of all background converge on Meron, the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, marking the anniversary of his death that took place over 1,800 years ago. (For more background on Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, click here).

Yet, based on the Israeli media's coverage of the Meron festival, one gets the impression that a gathering of 200,000 Jews of all backgrounds - the single largest annual Jewish gathering of the entire year - uniting in a celebration of their Jewish heritage, is simply not a story worth writing (or getting excited) about.

Ha'aretz chose to focus their Lag Ba'Omer coverage around a man in Bnei Brak who received serious burns at a Lag Ba'Omer bonfire, only devoting the last paragraph of their article (comprised of a single sentence) to the Meron festival.

Man, 20, seriously burned at Lag Ba’Omer bonfire

A 20-year-old man was seriously burned all over his body Monday after pouring gasoline on a bonfire in Bnei Brak during Lag Ba’Omer festivities.

The man, who attended a religious ceremony of Lag Ba’Omer, was burned when his clothes caught on fire as he poured the flammable substance...

Some 150,000 on Monday attended the celebrations at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron in the Galilee, where a large feast is held traditionally.

The Jerusalem Post took a different approach. They devoted an entire article to the Meron festival, except their coverage focused on all of the injuries sustained at the event.

Medics treat fire burns across country

Emergency services were kept busy overnight Monday - Lag Ba’Omer Eve - treating youth who were injured in bonfires throughout the country and the many attendants of the Shimon Bar Yochai festival at Mount Meron...

MDA teams treated 123 people at the Mount Meron festival. Army Radio reported that twice as many people received medical treatment at the same event in 2005...

An estimated 200,000 people have been reported to participate in the event, with an equal number still expected to arrive. 5,000 policemen were securing the festival, with 100 medics and 10 ambulances present as well.

Not to be outdone, Yediot Achronot focused the bulk of their Lag Ba'Omer coverage on, among other things, the actions of fringe elements on the political right and only at the very end of the article was a single sentence devoted to the Meron festival.

Lag Ba’Omer: Olmert photos burned

Tens of thousands of bonfires were lit across the country to mark Lag Ba’Omer. Firefighters stood ready to prevent bonfires from spreading out of control... The Ministry of Environment published a list of suggestions to reduce air pollution...

A 20 year-old man was seriously injured after pouring flammable liquid on a fire in Bnei Brak... In Bat Yam a seven year-old boy was injured by a car while on the way to a Lag Ba’Omer bonfire... Extreme right-wing activists burned pictures of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in different areas in Judea and Samaria...

Over 150,000 people marked the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai at Har Meron. The site has attracted ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews for hundreds of years.

One is left to wonder why the Israeli media would pass up a golden opportunity to focus their Lag Ba'Omer coverage on the aspect of Jewish unity that the Meron festival brings about, bringing together annually hundreds of thousands of Jews annually; both religious and secular, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Particularly now, at a time when there seem to be so many rifts within the Jewish People and State, the Jewish unity achieved at the Meron festival should be hailed as a model of what we should be striving to achieve the entire year round.

Instead, the Israeli media focuses their coverage of Lag Ba'Omer on bonfire injuries and other isolated incidents, as if they were themselves trying to douse the very flames of the revival of the Jewish spirit and Jewish unity that the bonfires of Lag Ba'Omer, particularly those at the Meron festival, seek to kindle within the hearts of the Jewish People throughout Israel.

What a wasted opportunity.


You know of course that the most attended funeral in Israel in 1995 was that of Yitzchak Rabin. What was the second most attended funeral?

It was that of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurebach where over 250,000 people gathered in one place on one day's notice with no big media announcement. The fact that so many people - enough to populate a small city - gathered in such a short period of time is a testament both to the importance of Rabbi Aurebach and to the newsworthiness of the event.

It merited one photograph on page A3 of the Baltimore Sun. Neither the NY Times nor Washington Post saw fit to have much more. (I think one of them didn't mention his death at all.)

Newspapers have a way of trivializing religious events. Unless there's some sort of scandal.

By Blogger Soccer Dad, at Tue May 16, 04:53:00 PM GMT+3  

Irony alert! Irony Alert!

Ze'ev writes moaning and complaining post about the Israeli media being negative, and not writing anything positive about Lag B'Omer. He does not write just a post about Lag B'omer and how wonderful it is that Jews gather together, but only mentions this in passing while castigating the biased leftist press for its negativity.

By the way, on the eve of Lag B'omer, I was watching channel 1 news and the only thing they were reporting on was Meron - with interviews with people who had come 3 weeks earlier to make sure they got a good spot and not only that but they gave one estimate of "up to 500,000" would be there.

So really Ze'ev?

By Anonymous H, at Wed May 17, 01:32:00 PM GMT+3  

With all do respect, Ze'ev, I have to agree with H.. if there was no coverage, why don;t you cover it.

Being critical of the media should not be our focus. We should know better than to expect the papers to show our side of things.

I am looking for something positive..
What exactly happened in Meron that we should be proud of?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed May 17, 02:06:00 PM GMT+3  

Iagree with you about the press coverage but I also agree with the other comments about your posting.

By Anonymous Hillel, at Wed May 17, 09:06:00 PM GMT+3  

Geez... tough crowd.

H, did I make up these articles myself?

I think I made it clear in the posting what the positive aspects were that were not touched upon by many media outlets:

Namely that this is the largest single Jewish gathering that takes place annually, which brings together Jews of all backgrounds in a celebration of Jewish Heritage... do I need to spell it out more clearly?

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Thu May 18, 01:14:00 AM GMT+3  

what you wrote in your short paragraph about what went on at Meron was just as much as the papers did
here is your opportunity to inspire us about why we ourselves should have been there...

Did you go up?

Of course, i don't mean to be tough.. just playing devils advocate here.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu May 18, 10:48:00 PM GMT+3  


Agreed - you "touched on" the positive aspects of Lag b'Omer. But your post wasn't about Lag B'Omer, it was about you poor persecuted Religious types and the nasty bullying leftist press.

As I said - IRONY!

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