Winter wishes

“Rain fever” usually arrives in Israel along with the holiday season in September. This year, though, the rains started later, and with them comes a particular local syndrome that is something more than interest in the usual transition of seasons.

Weather forecasters are about to be tested carefully. Israelis treat them just as seriously as they treated the military analysts and government officials who didn’t expect the Yom Kippur War. If forecasters promise a big rain but only a little falls, demands will fly for their dismissal or, at the very least, they will be ridiculed endlessly. The same thing happens if forecasters say there will only be a drizzle and we get a deluge of hail, snow and storm winds instead.

Imagination plays a big role in our passion for the winter. If forecasters promise a big storm, rest assured that entertainment programs, newscasts, newspapers and blogs all write about it, seemingly affecting the national mood. People gather in their homes and consume more products. More than anything, they are ready to take to their keyboards and Internet to catch the guilty party who promised them a certain weather pattern and didn’t come through. Who should be blamed for predicting a storm that didn’t happen and where is the snow promised to the children of Jerusalem?

An invisible tension exists between total faith in science and the cultural need to talk about those drops of rain. Rain is at the forefront of our tribal consciousness. Talking about winter, as part of our belief in predicting the future, unites us. Even when we are disappointed with the random and arbitrary winter discourse, we can still be angry together and laugh when the weatherman apologizes, saying that even his own laundry was hanging outside and got wet.

The facade of winter, especially the endless talk of rain, is rooted in our primal fear of the desert. Suddenly everyone has something to say if the rain does come. It becomes a curse and a blessing. If there is no rain, we will be barraged again with demands to conserve water. No one remembers that Israel is deep in the process of desalination.

The water will make the desert bloom, even if we aren’t standing in the desert, and even if the water doesn’t actually have much to do with the rain. During the summer, everyone forgets the rain and goes to the beach. Only when fall leaves begin to change color and drop from the trees does the talk of early rain return to the public discourse. Some still deny their preoccupation with the rain, at least while they are at the beach with grains of sand stuck in their hair. But they are quick to jump into the Israeli conversation grinder the moment the rain arrives.

Excessive rain will also reveal just how exposed the homefront really is. Israelis also have a deep desire to drive the desert back to the equator and stop it from gnawing away at the country. Desert makes up about 70 percent of Jordan, but Israel refuses to allow its coastline to be counted as a desert in Middle East statistics.

It is easy to make the rain the center of our lives, in the absence of more worthy issues — and even if there such issues, it sometimes seems worthwhile to escape from them into the rain. The rain has always been here and always will be; but we continue to wait for it all the time.

This article was first published on israel hayom