Israel 1980: How’s the Weather?

Several months ago, I posted two pieces on the school year that I spent in Israel in 1979-1980. I promised there would be more to come on that subject in the months ahead.

As it turns out, there were several issues that I wanted to post about and other writing that took precedence. But, I thought I would take a moment on what is a very cold Michigan morning to think about one issue that I think about a lot when I remember that year and that is what is was like to live through the change of seasons in Jerusalem.

I have been fascinated by weather since I was a little kid. The beloved Boston TV and radio meteorologist, Don Kent, was one of my heroes as a child. I used to love to watch him describe the various aspects of weather in Boston (which was never easy to predict) and to explain the science behind them.

I don’t think I thought very much about what the weather would be like before I left for Israel but almost immediately upon landing, it became an issue.

I flew to Israel with two good friends and classmates and while they went to arrange transportation to Jerusalem, I sat on a bench at the airport with our luggage. Still trying to figure out exactly where I was, I was joined on the bench by a woman and her two grandchildren. The children were jumping up and down, having met their grandmother who had just arrived on the same plane as we did. The kids were so excited and kept telling her: k’var yarad geshem!, “It rained already”.

I couldn’t figure out why they were so excited about it. Then I realized that being that it was a few days before Sukkot, that was very unusual indeed. The rainy season usually doesn’t start in Israel in early October and the early rain led to two conflicting attitudes. It’s great in that it might portend a much needed season with sufficient rain. But, it might also intrude on Sukkot celebrations. So, the kids were excited and more than a bit wary.

As it turned out, it didn’t rain again for a couple of months but that first conversation made me realize how critical the issue of weather is in Israel, specifically regarding rain.

The Torah is full of references to rain as a blessing and lack of rain as a curse and it is easy to see why when you spend the winter in Israel. The beautiful green areas of the land depend upon sufficient rain during the winter. Of course, now there is irrigation that can help in terms of the fruits and vegetables but nothing substitutes for the blessing of rain nourishing the parched earth after the summer.

So, I sat back and waited for a good rain storm. I was tired of endless days of sun and gently warm weather leading into December. Then, it all changed. I distinctly remember sitting in class one day and looking out the window and seeing what looked to me like a dust storm: wind whipping up great clouds of haze and dust. Someone muttered: “a storm is coming”. And, it certainly came very quickly.

The temperature immediately dropped some 20 degrees and sheets of rain and hail came pouring down on all of us especially those who hadn’t listened to the radio and brought an umbrella (not that it would have done much good.)

There were several storms that followed that winter and I can honestly say that I have never been as cold as I was in my dormitory room with poor central heating and cold, stone floors. I immediately sent a letter home to my parents asking them for a few more warm shirts which, thankfully, came rather quickly.

But, then came the unforgettable moment: my first Jerusalem snowstorm.

Many think it doesn’t snow in Jerusalem. It does. Believe me, it does. On the night before Purim, it began to snow and that morning, we woke up to several inches of snow and spent the day on long walks through the city enjoying the views and watching Jerusalemites having snowball fights in the middle of the city. It was truly a great experience and seeing the “city of gold”covered in white was unforgettable.

(Here I should mention that on one of congregation trips to Israel in December 1991, we encountered one of the worst snowstorms in the history of the city, some 14 inches. That was the last time I ever led a trip during the winter.)

But the snow disappeared quickly and winter turned to a glorious spring. The rain and snow of the winter led to the most marvelous smells and sights as the land woke up after the rains.

I left Israel at the beginning of June but summer had already come and with it the dreaded “hamsin”, the hot, dry desert wind which brings in the highest temperatures over the course of the year. Not being a real fan of hot weather, those days were difficult to deal with, especially one day when the temperature rose to about 44 degrees Celsius (about 112 Fahrenheit) and I experiences heat exhaustion for the first time in my life. But, it all was part of a cycle.

The climate in Israel was strange to me: the idea of a dry season and a rainy season and the occasional bouts of cold weather interrupting warm winter days. But, in its own way, it was predictable and I accepted the pattern even though I missed some of the weather I used to experience in Boston.

Now to the present day.

As everywhere else in the world, the reality of climate change is a serious issue in Israel. Adequate supplies of water, the ability for the land to continue to produce the fruits and vegetables which are so delicious and unique to the land, and the excitement of children who watch carefully to see when the first rains come are all affected by the dangerous changes that are coming to our world. Looking back with some nostalgia on my experience that year makes it even more imperative that, for the sake of the entire earth, we address climate issues seriously and passionately. It is important to remember God’s promise to Noah after the flood that the cycles of the world, from cold to hot and winter to summer would never change.

But, God also promised that God would never destroy the world again. That does not cover destruction brought about by human beings. We must do all we can to save the wondrous cycles of the world wherever we live.

More to come on my recollections of that year.

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