Singin’ in the Rain

January 14, 2010 by

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It rained today, and that’s great.

For someone who grew up in England, that’s a bizarre statement to make. When it rains in England – which it does most of the time, most of the year – it’s yet another dreary wet day, another reason to be miserable and moan about the bloody weather. But in Israel, it’s totally different. This is a country that is short of water, and desperately needs its meager rains.

This means that in Israel, you can’t be miserable about rain. When it rains, it’s fantastic. It actually lifts your spirits: the absolute opposite effect of British rain. During the winter months, there’s a palpable sense of public joy when it does rain. Rain makes people happy. Rain makes the country happy.

Rain also makes us tense, of course, especially when there’s not enough of it, which has been the case all too often in recent years. When they forecast rain, and it ends up being merely cloudy, you feel let down by the wishful thinking of the meteorologists. “Over-promise, under-deliver,” you mutter. And this tenseness also translates into a national obsession with the water level of the Kinneret. We talk about “upper red lines” and “lower red lines,” and follow the Kinneret’s statistics like sports fans quoting batting averages.

The very language used to talk about rain in Israel is infused with deep cultural and religious baggage. When it rains heavily, we call it “gishmei brachah” (“rains of blessing”). This isn’t language used only by the religious; one of the beauties of Israel is how modern Hebrew has become a secular language that is infused almost nonchalantly with expressions from the Jewish past.

Because it rains so infrequently in Israel, when it does rain, religious people attribute this to the efficacy of their prayers. But you don’t have to believe in God to have the sense of being subject to nature’s whims, the sense that one of the very basic foundations of life – water – is essentially out of your control.

Israel changes how you feel about rain, and thence also changes how you feel about life. In a way, that can be very beautiful, and contributes to a moving perception of reliance on the un-understood. But in another way, it perhaps contributes to a frustrating national inability to become self-empowered: we can’t change the rain, so we also can’t change the way people drive, or fail to recycle, or whatever. “Ein mah la’asot” – “there’s nothing you can do”.

It may be that the sort of fatalism we have learned to develop when thinking about rain infuses other aspects of life in Israel, to our detriment. All in all, though, I love the rain in Israel, and I love the way it makes me feel. I look forward to the day that Israel’s desalination industry has become so developed and successful that water shortages are confined to the history books.

But when we do reach that day, vital as it will be to our wellbeing and that of the Middle East as a whole, something inside me will be sad. Something will be lost. Rain will be miserable again.

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