KARNEI SHOMRON, Israel ““ Rain is a precious commodity in Israel.
That said, there are some facts about rain that everyone here seems to know and that we learned pretty quickly after we made aliyah eight years ago.
For starters, you can leave everything outside during the summer months – laundry, bicycles, furniture, grill. It does not rain in the summer. Ever.
The first rain hits sometime during the High Holidays. It doesn’t matter if the holidays are early or late, it will rain sometime, often during Sukkot. The corollary to this is that it is impossible to find umbrellas, rain boots, or raincoats in the stores until after the first rain.
The last rain will hit right around Passover, usually on seder night.
I never realized how quickly we fell into the rhythm of the yearly rain cycle until I took my children back to Cleveland for a summer visit about two years after we made aliyah.
As we walked from the airport terminal into the parking garage, we saw a steady stream of rain pouring down.
“Oh no, Ima,” said my son, who was 4 at the time, “we forgot to bring our winter clothes.”
To him, rain signified winter and cold. He could not conceive of rain in the summer.
Rain is so important to Israel, and therefore Judaism, that there are special words for the first and last rainfall of the year: “Yoreh u malkosh.” Yoreh is the first rain of the season, and malkosh is the last. We recite these words every day in the Sh’ma.
Jews around the world pray for rain for Israel. The end of Sukkot features a special prayer service for rain. It can get a little tricky, asking for enough rain, or a rain of blessing, but not too much rain that would cause damaging floods and mudslides. It is a moving prayer, especially in drought years like the ones we have faced lately in Israel.
We also pray for dew, because even when the rains have ceased, the small amounts of moisture that coat the land in the early morning might be enough to sustain some of our plant life and give us hope for the future. And we recite short summaries of our prayers for rain and dew during the Shemonah Esrai, or the silent Amidah, that we say three times a day.
The Yoreh caught us by surprise this year. Yes, the mornings had been a little cooler and a little overcast during the week. But with Rosh HaShanah right around the corner and thinking about little else than the food I was preparing for a myriad of guests, I missed the signals completely.
But on the Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah, as I sat around the table with my husband and five children, and we contemplated getting up and clearing the table for dessert, suddenly the lights went out.
Losing power where we live is not unusual, but as we sat there relieved that we could put off clearing the table for another few moments, a cold breeze began blowing through the open door and windows.
Then came a sound that we had not heard in five months: Rain was pattering on our roof and the roofs of our neighbors. Almost in unison my children, aged 4 to 14, let out a whoop and ran outside. From the door my husband and I watched them standing on the brick lane as they opened their arms and turned their faces toward the sky, letting the rain soak them all over.
Watching the kids’ joyful dance in the first rain of the year, I didn’t bother to think about the grill and the hammock and the bicycles that were getting a good soaking. And I forgave them for the wet mess of clothing and muddy feet that they would soon track into the house.
I felt their enthusiasm course through me as I watched them frolic. I silently thanked God for the refreshing and much-needed rain. And I marveled at my children’s awareness of the importance of the moment.