In Israel, even the weather has a spiritual connection.
My trip was scheduled to begin just after we finished the whirlwind of chagim (holidays) clustered at the beginning of the Jewish new year. In addition to the more famous ones, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah, we celebrated a holiday called Shmini Atzeret, which on the Reform calendar and also in Israel is celebrated on the same day as Simchat Torah. Shmini Atzeret only has one unique ritual: a prayer for rain that is added into the service. Once Sukkot is complete and the harvest has been gathered in, we turn our attention to the produce of the next year, which needs rain to grow. So how could I be surprised when I looked at the forecast for my first day in Israel and saw rain: all evening.
I had scheduled my flight to arrive the day before the ARZA Solidarity Mission that I came here to participate on officially began, so that I could have a day to explore some favorite sites, neighborhoods, shops, and restaurants before the busy itinerary begins. So when I got to my hotel and saw the gray skies, I had to adjust my more ambitious plans for the evening: no long walk to the Old City and the Western Wall. But shop owners were happy for a customer – even a wet one – to browse among the shelves of hand-painted ceramics, woven and embroidered tallitot, and beautiful paper cuts in stores that I always love browsing downtown, and the weather was perfect for a cozy dinner of Shakshuka (a tomato and egg stew) at Tmol Shilshom, a hidden away restaurant/bookstore whose Shakshuka has been rated as one of the 10 best breakfasts in the world (but I’d eat it at any time of day!)
The first time I lived in Israel, my Israeli roommates stored my luggage on the balcony, to my horror. When I angrily told them that my luggage was not waterproof, they laughed at me: it doesn’t rain in the summer, they exclaimed. And it didn’t. When Shmini Atzeret came around, they found space in a closet for my luggage. And so the rain came down yesterday, forming puddles in the stone streets. “Is this the first rain of the season?” I asked my taxi driver, and he told me it was. “We have a special name for the first rain,” he explained to me, “Yoreh.” When he asked me how to say “first rain” in English, I had to explain that we have no such word, and that I keep my umbrella with me year-round in Philadelphia.
By this morning, the sun had come out again, giving me enough time to walk to the Old City and leave a prayer in a crack in the Western Wall, but leaving enough of a chill in the air to justify a bowl of kube soup, a Kurdish Jewish delicacy, while I was in the shuk. A wedge of halvah, a few bags of spices to bring home, and the famous Marzipan rugelach, of course, needed no justification. Into the suitcase they go – it’s time to head to Tel Aviv to meet up with the group for our ARZA mission.