Making Aliyah is certainly an adventure, but coming to Maale Adumim has proven to be wondrous--especially for someone from a moderate climate.
For one thing, nature here seems to conspire in order to enchant.
And to teach.
Perhaps I can summarize my 'weather' experience, before you read about Tuvia in the sun. Perhaps, today, I can also suggest how this 'puzzle' called nature works--so you can see, through Tuvia, how extraordinary is this new and ancient place.
When we arrived at our apartment in Maale Adumim, in early August, 2010 we were simply so amazed-- by the sun, the dry heat, how bright the light was, and by how far into the desert we could see-- that we didn't notice larger weather patterns. We became insensitive to some of the most obvious weather elements. I think we lost that sensitivity for good reason: during our first 63 days here, we had 63 consecutive days when the daily high was 92 degrees or higher. The range was, probably, 92 on the low side, to 107 for the highest temperature.
I believe that, during this period, we had at least 10 days where the daily high was predicted to be 100 or higher. It didn't always get there--but it was still hot.
Thankfully, there seemed to be little or no humidity.
The first time I became aware of 'weather' came weeks after we had settled in, when, one morning, I noticed a dark spot on the desert landscape, something I had not seen before.
For an instant, I was surprised, as in, 'where did that come from?'
Then, of course, I realized that this spot was a shadow cast by a passing cloud.
I had not noticed such 'shadowing' on the landscape before.
Was this the first cloud I had seen?
Had we had no clouds before?
The desert landscape is barren, naked. Shadows like this are very noticeable.
This was the first cloud since our arrival?
I did not know what to make of this observation. Its major impact on me was to have Tuvia react to the appearance of the first clouds with his characteristic shocked, self-centered manner.
Poor Shloimy. Was this his fault?
Since our arrival, throughout August and even into September, while the days were hot-- some days dangerously hot--the nights were different.
The nights were cool--so much so, in fact, that we turned off the central air conditioning before going to sleep .
Why turn it off?
Because, beginning about one hour before dark, each evening, a wind came in from the west. For us, this wasn't an ordinary wind. It was a strong wind. Strong enough to blow a hat off your head, and certainly sustained enough to cool down the temperature.
-Strong enough to howl around windows.
Almost every night.
-So strong that, one morning, after sleeping with the windows open, my wife commented that she had awakened during the night because she had felt her hair blowing in the wind.
Dear reader, here's a question for you--when, in Pittsburgh, did you ever sleep with the windows open and then awaken, not because you were cold, but because the wind was blowing your hair around?
I had never heard of such a thing.
From the day I had seen that first shadow on the desert landscape, I began to notice clouds. Nothing ominous, nothing special--but every day, or maybe every week, just a few more clouds than before.
Still, I was only dimly aware of what was before me.
What's the big deal?
Listen, the sky wasn't the problem for me. The real story was on the ground-- the heat, and the need to protect skin, and the need to drink, drink, drink.
Then, one morning--grey.
That's the day I wrote to Shloimy, 'accusing' him of touching something him shouldn't have been touching, because the sun had 'disappeared.'.
In Pittsburgh, even in the summer, we have days with 100% overcast skies.
But, apparently, that's not the case here, not in the summer, not in a desert world.
Still, none of this seemed connected.
While the clouds were forming and the sun continued hot, something else was going on--birds.
You see, according to at least two websites, Israel is one of the largest migration flyways in the world. Over 500 million birds fly through Israel.
Twice a year.
First, they fly south from as far away as Scandinavia --or even the Artic--towards Africa.
Then, months later, the birds return, flying north from Africa, to Europe, etc.
According to one website, Israel is "currently considered the leading superpower (their words) in Birding."
I suppose that if birds could read, write and create documentaries about migration, we'd hear a lot more about these 500 million birds.
Whether we hear about it or not, they are there.
So here we are, in August and early September, and my wife hears that, in a certain two/three day window, storks are scheduled to fly over Israel.
She wonders if Maale Adumim is close enough to their flyway for us to see these manificient creatures --or, will we miss them?
We are, it seems, too far away from their line of flight.
We talk of birds, and the place Israel has in the Birding Migration route.
How curious, don't you think? Israel, the superpower of birding?
Then, next day, while out for a walk as the sun began to dip, we saw a flock of birds overhead. They looked like birds from a barn swallow family.
Locals, or birds flying from Europe to Africa?
What caught my attention was the wind--this flock, small birds, was having a devil of a time trying to keep in formation. Some of the birds actually seemed to fly sideways when the wind gusted.
The flock, in the wind, scattered, blew apart, returned to formation--then quickly blew apart again as the wind gusted.
Seconds after we noticed these birds struggling directly above us, it became our turn-- the wind became so strong that my wife and I, despite leaning forward, had moments when we could not move. The wind seemed to weigh more than we did--the irresistable force versus the immoveable object. Delightedly, laughing with an almost childish pleasure, we struggled, unable to move forward until the wind relented enough for us to walk.
The moment stayed with me. It seemed to have meaning for me, but I could not understand.
Soon after this episode with the birds and the wind, it rained. Before the rain came, however, there was thunder. It was mid-week, early morning. We had just finished morning services that day, and I was still indoors at the time, talking to a friend, when the thunder rolled.
I couldn't tell if the noise was thunder, the sound of jet fighters kicking in their afterburners, or a volley of heavy gunfire rolling in from the desert--given where we live, any one of those three options was realistic.
It was so brief, no one reacted. I ignored it.
But as I started to head out the door, my friend asked me if I had seen rain yesterday.
No, I said.
He told me that it had very briefly rained the day before--but he also added that this rain, at this time of the year, was not the'real' rain. It was a 'false' rain, that came in from the east, from Jordan.
The 'real' rain, he said, came from the west and the north--from Europe. That, he said, was what brought the 'real' rain.
As soon as he said this, everything seemed to fall into place.
As they say in England, 'the penny dropped'--I got it!
In a moment of insight, I could see how nature's parts fit together.
Think about it: here we are, in a harsh desert world.
This time of year in Israel is the beginning of a planting season, for crops to be harvested next Spring.
Rain is crucial for survival.
Right now, with farmers here about to plant for next year's food, you realize that, in a desert world, you need all the help you can get; this is the season for the Jewish Prayer for Rain--and in this hot, dry world, prayer makes sense, right?
As Tuvia writes to Shloimy--how else are you going to get watered up around here? By calling the water department?
You might do that in Pittsburgh, Shloimy, but in the desert?
I saw an online interview recently with a woman who lives in the Negev desert, with a group that is starting to turn their little slice of sand into a farming community. Her comments about living in such a harsh place were telling: living here, she said, reminds you every day that Hashem is in charge. Here, she continued, there is no water, no natural shade, no respite from the heat, no natural tillable soil. Living here, she said, teaches you that without Hashem's help, you cannot survive. It's that basic, that harsh.
Spend several weeks in a desert environment, and you learn to ask a simple question: where in this desert is rain going to come from?
More significant, how will it get here?
The answer lies with the birds.
I do not think it is a coincidence that the bird migration season from Europe, and the rain, come from the same areas, just as the winds pick up in power and duration.
Remember that flock of small birds that struggled in the wind, sometimes actually flying sideways?
Their struggle reveals the key--the wind.
Curiously, the wind doesn't blow this hard throughout the year--just now and throughout the rainy season.
The wind, very strong, comes from the west and the northwest; the birds come from the same direction, and the rain comes from that same direction!
Three natural phenomena, happening at the same time.
That's just a coincidence? I don't think so.
It's as if all of nature has been constructed to bring the wind, the birds, the rain all together--a three-fer, right? The birds get what they need--a good tailwind, to help them with the long flight they are taking; the rain gets to where it needs to be--over the desert--and the wind, traveling as it does from the Arctic to Africa, makes it all possible, just at the right time, the right season, to the right places.
There are no coincidences.This world, if we look carefully enough, and if we can understand what it is we are looking at, teaches us that nature has been pre-packaged to work a certain way. Each part is designed to work a certain way, and all the parts work together in ways that can boggle the imagination.
Perhaps that is why my fictional Tuvia is so amazed by his aliyah experience. If only he wouldn't be so irascible.