Aliyah diary: Hearing and seeing, Middle East style

Aliyah diary: Hearing and seeing, Middle East style

An odd sort of whooshing pitter-patter was heard from our backyard on the penultimate day of an usually hot October. After scratching our heads for a few seconds, we went wide-eyed. Could it be … maybe it really was … rain?

After running between the welcome drops to shut off the conservation-conscious drip-irrigation system that normally keeps our garden green, I watched the neighbor’s kittens skittering across the suddenly slick tiles of our patio.

Living in the Judean Desert in the midst of a severe drought, we – and the cats – are understandably astonished at the sound of raindrops and the feel of wet pavement.

As the precious drops pelted our desert landscape, two young men from Teaneck arrived for a visit. Looking out our living room window to the horizon over the Jordan Valley, they spotted a perfect rainbow. They opened a prayer book and found the blessing one recites for such a vision: “Blessed are You … Who remembers the covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant, and fulfills His word” (ArtScroll translation).

Just about everyone in Israel, from Knesset members to schoolchildren, is praying for rain these days. We are extra-conscious of our ongoing bargain with God – rooted in the biblical verses we say each day and that are written inside the mezuzah cases on our doorposts – that if we show the proper behavior in, and to, this unique land that is dependent on water from heaven, we will receive it in abundance.

My heightened sensitivity to the sight and sound of rain started me thinking about other sights and sounds that have become familiar in my life here over the past two years. Consider, for instance:

“¢ Bedouin boys loading grocery sacks into their donkeys’ saddle bags in the supermarket parking lot (I never saw that at the Englewood ShopRite).

“¢ Young soldiers with rifles giving up their seats on the bus to young mothers with babies (not a frequent scene on N.J. Transit).

“¢ Death notices plastered on public bulletin boards to give passersby immediate access to funeral and shiva details.

“¢ Date palms and pomegranate trees lining major boulevards (though I do miss the majestic elms lining Grayson Place in Teaneck).

“¢ Mall kiosks selling kiddush cups, candlesticks, havdalah candles, and challah boards.

“¢ Kippot on the heads of post office clerks, waiters, repairmen, policemen, deliverymen, and bus drivers.

“¢ Trays piled with fresh jelly doughnuts outside bakeries a full two months before Chanukah.

“¢ Electronic signs on buses during the High Holiday season wishing passengers “g’mar chatima tova” – to be inscribed for a good year.

“¢ Stacks of plastic lawn chairs for sale outside hardware stores before Sukkot; mounds of plastic clogs for sale outside shoe stores before Yom Kippur; masses of disposable plates, cutlery, and contact paper for sale outside paper-goods stores before Passover.

“¢ The roar of planes flying overhead, which in our part of the country are always army aircraft, not passenger jets en route to the airport.

“¢ The secular fitness instructor at my Friday morning class ending each session with “Shabbat shalom,” a phrase that everyone uses regardless of religious beliefs or practices.

“¢ The tinkly tunes of “Frère Jacques” and “Happy Birthday to You” coming from loudspeakers outside our city’s public schools to signify breaks between classes.

“¢ No Christmas-carol Muzak in the shopping malls. Ever.

“¢ The “baa” of sheep and the “maa” of goats in the valley below our backyard.

I am truly pleased that I don’t hear snow plows or leaf-blowers anymore, that I never hear the rasp of ice scrapers on windshields. Good riddance!

But it does get cold here. We make good use of our winter coats and scarves, especially on chilly desert nights. Because winter is also supposed to be the rainy season (we hope, we pray), we made sure that the cold-weather gear we brought with us to Israel is water-resistant.

May we have many opportunities to test those garments’ imperviousness to rain.

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