The winter fell upon Jerusalem with a vengeance this past week, and despite the best laid plans and precautions, plastic cabinets that had been securely stacked on the living room patio overturned with such force that the doors came off and allowed the contents to spill willy-nilly before the remaining shelves of the units flew off in all directions including the valley below. A glass office door that I’d been storing on that same porch shattered into several large shards but, thankfully, remained on the floor and did not hurt anyone.
My husband lumbered into the kitchen, roused from sleep after three or four crashes on the patio made continued slumber impossible. “I seriously doubt we’ll have a minyan this morning. These guys are old, tired, and very cold. Who would come out on a morning like this?” Wrapped in a college-era terry-cloth robe that had seen the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and the collapse of apartheid, he assumed his South African martyr stance and announced, “I will go to shul. Someone may be saying kaddish and I’ll be needed.” Thus spake Daniel Boone of East Jerusalem.
And indeed, perhaps I’d spoken too quickly when, after the first six raindrops fell, I announced, “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore! Forty years old and tight as a drum, this building!” My crowing was due, in part, to the fact that I’d only purchased the place the month before and was valiantly trying to justify uneven floors, toilets that were installed at the culmination of the Six Day War, a kitchen from the Turkish occupation and, finally, an disarmingly sketchy neighborhood where no one speaks English, a few talk Hebrew and one must be fluent in either Arabic or Russian to receive adequate service in the local bank branch.
Thus said, can anyone doubt my level of dismay when on Day Three of the storm I walked into the living room and, before beginning morning prayers, unexpectedly stepped into a puddle of water that was rapidly spreading to the center of the silk weave Bukharin carpet? The wall behind the sofa was soaked, bubbled and discernibly discolored.
But here’s the kicker: I felt “dismay.” Not panic. Not horror. No tears or shrieks. Instead, I signed deeply, scratched my unwashed tresses, stepped away from the puddle and prayed. Just like any other Tuesday morning. Figuring that there is nothing to be done until the rains stop in the spring, why worry? My apartment is no wetter than that of anyone else in the vicinity, and we blessedly have heat, blankets, soup for reheating and humor.
Without a doubt, this uncharacteristically mature stance results from knowing so many friends and family members who were gobsmacked by the brutality of Hurricane Sandy. My own mother could not enter her building for six weeks after the storm hit and, at the age of 83, found herself bunking with grandchildren, cousins, acquaintances. My hometown of Oceanside, New York, was assaulted with such gusto that even today, previously proud homeowners sport zombie stares as they wade through insurance claims, contracting estimates, FEMA paperwork and more. Utility trucks and engineering vans pepper the streets of the previously tranquil community, and for many, life is still at a minor standstill as they try to “regroup” from the staggering storm.
An hour after leaving the house, the Minyan Man returned home, smiling and stomping his boot-clad feet on the smatut I’d haphazardly tossed on the entrance floor. “You won’t believe it!” he exclaimed in his sparkling Jo’burg accent. “The synagogue was packed! Enough for two quorums! It seemed that everyone thought there wouldn’t be enough men for the mourners to say kaddish so everyone took it upon himself to be there for the next guy.”
Despite the incredulous tone, my husband was wrong about one thing: I did believe it. We are a country that understands storms from either natural weather phenomena or the enemies that storm our proverbial gates. Bunker Mentality reigns supreme in Israel, and, despite the problems that plague our beleaguered land, those things that bind one Jewish soul to the other will always ensure that a sole mourner is not alone when praying for the soul of another. I have lived in many places in the country since moving here in 1995, and I can no longer count the times that during periods of crisis, someone has knocked on my door and asked, “Do you need something? Are you and the children all right?” The food swapping between apartments, folded clothing that is no longer needed and stacked at the entrance of the respective buildings, offers of rides and pharmacy runs for the old, post-birth, indisposed and otherwise unable would make my head spin if I let it. Storms only make Israelis nicer to one another, and I naively believe that anything that makes people kind is good.
There is an unspoken law in Israel that states, “Bless the rain. Always.” And why not? If we don’t get it now during the ordained period spanning from Shmeini Atzeret until Pesach, we will not have guilt-free August swimming, flowering geraniums or squeaky-clean babies. With God’s blessing, it rains in Israel for a few months only, and that, my friends, is that. Outside of an aberrational occurrence, there will be no warm summer showers to sweeten a steamy July afternoon nor a flash storm to wash away some desert dust. October through March is the time to relish, bless and try to laugh at the rain, even when it floods an occasional living room in an odd and ethnically diverse part of the city.