By default, I’ve acquired the somewhat dubious reputation of being a “humor writer” or something along those lines. This can prove to be somewhat problematic when I have something serious to say and/or find myself weeping into the pillow of human despair because of a “tragédie du jour.” Nevertheless, I try to live by the axiom of, “Give me an ounce of laughter, and I’ll give you a pound of mirth.” (Actually, I made that up. No need to go to wisdomquotes.com.)
Even though Israel is my home, sometimes it is hard to spot the real differences in my personal lifestyle. In America I drove a car, and in Israel I drive a car. I ground my own coffee beans for the morning’s caffeine infusion, and nothing has changed in that department. We had a television when I lived in New York but rarely watched other than an occasional episode of “Seinfeld” or the news. Ditto for my Middle East sojourn. I once worked primarily in the English language, and, sadly this, too, has not changed.
I am somewhat ashamed to admit that it would be difficult for me to “greet the day” if I didn’t first skim the entire morning tabloid. As a religious person, there is something a wee bit embarrassing about a form of “idol worship” that keeps me abreast of the happenings in the world of Jessica Alba, A-Rod, hot-trends in stocking stuffers, and where the important people will be vacationing next spring. Still, slave mentality or not, at 5:45 every morning I rub my puffy eyes and trudge in bare feet to the end of my building’s dusty hallway and unfold that day’s issue of the daily newspaper. It matters little if I’m scanning the Hebrew or English editions, because the headlines offer identical, ominous information: “Water Authority Warns Lack Of Rain Is Worse Than Ever”; or “November Set To Be Worst Ever For Lake Kinneret”; or “The Sea Of Galilee Forecasters Predict Dry Weather To Continue Into December”; and in case I haven’t made my point, “Cabinet To Discuss Emergency Water Plan Share.”
Last Shabbos, the rabbi was expected to share critical insights into the sale of Joseph and the brothers’ questionable behavior but instead implored us to attend a mass prayer for rain that night at the Western Wall. “It is imperative to remember that we pray in a quorum of ten men to remind us that our fates are intrinsically connected to those of our brothers. If the fishermen are suffering, if the north of the country is drying up, we are all suffering!”
Hark! This morning I awakened not to the sound of my insipid alarm clock but, rather, to a magical symphony of the season’s first (and very overdue) downpour. Still warm beneath the fluffy blankets, then and there I decided that to walk the six kilometers from my home to the office. I’d waited too long for this Heavenly proclamation. I wanted to be one with the blessed rain.
Needless to say, by the time I got to work my boots were soaked through to the socks, and I could not have cared any less. The fact was that I was borderline thrilled. Already deep into December, we hadn’t had any rain to speak of – and I mean none – and traces of fear and sadness were evident on the faces of all who crossed my path. The brutality of the Carmel Forest fire only served to remind us that in addition to our lack of national preparedness, the Heavens were withholding their rewards, leaving us both physically and spiritually parched. Prayer services were popping up with increasing frequency, and the only moisture to be had was in the perspiration exuded in the communal plea for the skies to unbolt their bounty and, finally, bless our land.
Oftentimes there is a common heartbeat coursing through the Israeli populace. We are such a tiny country, and the sheer numbers of catastrophes – both natural and as a result of living in a problematic global neighborhood – lead to a bunker mentality as we weep, shout and hope in unison. In my decade and a half of living here, I’ve seen it over and over: the morning after the murder of Yitzchak Rabin; purchasing polyurethane sheeting for our bomb shelter; the gas-mask distribution center; bank lines and at bus stops on Holocaust Remembrance Day; the day-of and day-after the announcement that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev would be coming home from Lebanon in boxes; marching and shouting together at a plethora of protests during the disengagement from Gaza; each utterance of the name “Gilad Shalit.”
This isn’t to say that everything is bleak over in these parts. Independence Day (and night!) is when the entire nation – from the Golan Heights to the sands of Eilat – morphs into one huge block party. Barbecues and beer reign supreme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that there is a palpable Woodstock feel to the festivities as everyone shares whatever it is that he or she brought to the party. Blanket hopping, shawarma tasting, Frisbee tossing, all contribute to the ebullient spirit of the day, a deserving respite for those of us who merit living in this pressure cooker called “Israel.” (Purim gives everyone an excuse to behave a little dopily. Presenting one’s bus ticket to a driver who is wearing a red clown nose is always enough to make we want to hug – almost – everyone.)
Perhaps it is difficult for those living in more varied climates to understand that day after day of beaming sunshine can not only become tedious; long after we have shifted our prayers from summertime mode to thanking God for making “the wind blow and the rains descend,” even those of us who are not farmers switch into panic mode. I’ve yet to meet an Israeli who is not cognizant of the red-line status of the Sea of Galilee and Sabbath table discussions of the weeks Torah portion are replaced with debates on the pros and cons of desalinization.
Digging through a carton of my favorite “New England winter” duds, I prepared to face this bone-chilling and damp Jerusalem morning in my L.L. Bean fleece jacket, layered over a nubby crew neck sweater. I pulled up a pair of rarely used rubber soled boots, and completed the ensemble by yanking a Scandinavian wool hat – replete with ear muffs – over my choppy hair.
Gene Kelly only got it half right by singing and dancing in the rain. Cheering and clapping as the water descends while tying up traffic and painting the sky gray, black and navy blue is the way that Israelis celebrate God’s love and affirmation. The rains – beautiful, sparkling, cleansing showers – are cause for unbridled celebration and an opportunity for all of us to reconnect to the Source of everything that is good.
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