No, don’t worry, your calendar is correct. It really IS Elul – and not Iyar.
I mention this, because if you’re the parent of Israeli teens, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you blinked and somehow missed half a year.
After all, sometime in the past few weeks, your child probably stayed out all night on a school-sanctioned activity and then had a day off the following day, and it’s understandable if you mistakenly assumed that Lag BaOmer had come early this year.
And, so, I’m here to tell you – because your shaliach probably didn’t – that in many places, Elul boasts not one, but TWO official excuses for going without sleep:
1) Siyur Slichot
A siyur slichot (literally, a Slichot – i.e. penitential prayers - tour) is a nighttime trip during Elul to a religiously-significant location (such as Yerushalayim’s Old City or Tzfat), and typically involves a scenic walk (a Shiputzim son hiked this week from the top of Har HaZeitim to the Kotel, via Yad Avshalom and Sha’ar HaAshpot), an inspirational talk or two, and finally, reciting Slichot.
2) The Hashba’ah
The hashba’ah (literally, swearing in ceremony) is a sort of traditional initiation rite organized by the high school seniors (i.e. the shministim*, for the Hebraically-oriented amongst you) for the young freshmen (patronizingly-referred to as chamshushim*).
<Brief aside> I was under the impression that the hashba’ah is pretty much universal, but Hannah says that none of her kids’ schools have one. How about your children’s high schools? </aside>
But lest you’re picturing a cruel hazing ritual, I should explain that at least in the yeshiva high schools and ulpanot, the ra”mim/mechanchot are in attendance the entire time and ensure that the event remains strictly within the bounds of what the school feels is appropriate.
In fact, as the nervous ninth graders quickly discover, the much-hyped hashba’ah - which they were originally so scared about - proves to be little more than a surprise nighttime tiyul, and everyone gets a t-shirt at the end... :-)
As noted above, the day after the hashba’ah and the siyur slichot, the kids have a day off – even though the school year just started and all the Tishrei holidays are right around the corner.
And thus, both events fall firmly under the category of: “Things I Still Don’t Understand, Despite Having Made Aliyah 13 Years Ago”…
* The terms shminist (literally, one belonging to the shminit – i.e. the eighth) and chamshush (a semi-derogatory way of saying “one belonging to the chamishit” – i.e. the fifth) are both vestigial throwbacks to the gymnasia system. The first form was the equivalent of today’s fifth grade, and the last – or eighth – form corresponded to today’s twelfth grade.