Weather permitting is a wintry phrase we New Jerseyans live by. Thus, it was with that proviso that we two old-timers, both insecurely hovering in the beyond life-expectancy range, decided to drive to Maryland to see an elaborately choreographed, and most definitely wonderful, thrilling, and exciting event — our great-grandson Noam’s Chagigat haSiddur.
Snow or fierce storms would have been a deterrent, but the weather was lovely for a February journey. Noam, a first grader at a Jewish day school, was going to get his own prayer book, in a ceremony of joy and love, shared by his entire class of more than 50 kids, and their many parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and anyone else who was bursting with pride over the accomplishments of these children.
In the years leading up to first grade, these beautiful youngsters have already demonstrated a palpable love of their Jewishness. It was a shechechayanu moment, definitely worth the trip from New Jersey. We will never forget the look on Noam’s face when the siddur was handed to him. And we know that Noam will use his siddur daily with the pride of that first day. May the words of the siddur resonate throughout his life and the lives of his classmates.
Noam, we are so very proud of you and your friends. Your amazing teachers and parents have made you serious Jews — and we two ancient Jews were so blessed to share your simcha!
Dealing with the vicissitudes of climate is universal, in America, Israel, and everywhere else. It’s no secret that Israel has been having a rough winter in many ways, including the weather. The prayers for wind and rain, those same brachot that can be found in Noam’s new prayerbook, have been reaping big responses. Yes to plenty of wind, and yes to plenty of rain.
All those noble and altruistic American volunteers in Israel can attest to that. They’ve been enduring heavy duty outdoor physical work, which many are not very accustomed to, and it’s even harder in the miseries of stormy weather. Our local idealists from New Jersey truly are not farmers, and the weather has not been their friend.
But it is an amazing feat that they accomplish. They are not in Israel to whine, or to wine and dine at its numerous 5-star hotels. With true grit, they are spending a lot of money to work hard and be a compelling presence to their Israeli brothers and sisters. They are simply inspirational. Kol hakavod! They bring honor and inspiration to all of us.
How much more onerous the weather is for those of our people in the IDF, many thousands of them, shivering with no reprieve, whether they are completely unsheltered or in a shell of a residential building with no heat, electricity, or water. When they enter in damp dirty clothing, that’s what they leave with, the same clammy stuff that they’ve been wearing for days or more. These are the times in Gaza when their dreams are for nothing more than a warm room, a hot bath, and a good meal.
But our soldiers are not getting any of that. Instead they endure wet socks, boots that they never get to take off, miserable cold, indoors and out — and if that’s not enough, fierce danger. And lest you think all of our wonderful soldiers are young men in their prime, let me dissuade you of that notion. There are volunteers, miluimniks, serving on front lines, who are nearing their 70th birthdays. For many of them this is not their first war, or even their second or third. When duty calls, they are ready, and able. What amazing heroes we Jews produce!
Of course, reading the travel ads, you might conclude that Israel is the land of perpetual sunshine. True, there is lots of sun, but often it’s so blazing hot that the wintry weather can even be welcome. The prime months in the Land tend to be October and May, when there’s no rain and the sun is brilliant but moderate. Those are the months that new construction apparently used to plan around. Those were the months when neither heat nor air-conditioning was needed or wanted. The other 10 months were pretty much ignored, so homes were either refrigerator-cold or oven-hot. Fortunately, newer construction almost always now includes central heat and air conditioning, commodities that the chalutzim and their descendants suffered without. But even I, no founding mother, no chalutza, remember the days of frigid indoors, wearing layers of clothing, or, conversely, sitting by an electric fan trying to cool off, and failing.
Our first residence in 1973 was outside Jerusalem, in an immigrant absorption center called Mevaseret Tzion, right off Highway 1. The setting was lovely, mountainous with spectacular views, and lots of young families from around the world. We were housed in a small single-floor little home with a kitchen (a term I use generously), living room, and three bedrooms, and one bath with a tub that unexpectedly proved to be an inviting home for many families of ants. The ants of Israel are worthy of a book, not a mere column. Their drive and talent simply cannot be overstated. There is no place in Israel that they find impenetrable. No matter the course of human events, the ants will remain triumphant, marching their way unfettered into just about everything. Only water is a temporary deterrent, as I discovered daily, when it was time to bathe my children. Nevertheless, the next day the ants were back. I always wondered why. They scoffed at my American ant-traps, chuckling all the way to the ingestible items in the kitchen, barely noticing the expensive array of deadly sprays in my armory. Until this day they remain the victors, many decades after the battle began.
The cottage itself was modestly furnished and unheated, except for a viciously belching, menacing kerosene stove, which appeared to be a monster smack in the middle of the hallway. That stove got so hot that I often used the flat surface on top for cooking. I can still remember pots of soup simmering away. Our son has a scar on his hand from a searing experience with that creature. That is a forever reminder that neither he nor I will ever forget, but it did little to mitigate the wintry cold.
Then, happily, spring arrived, and with it some human-compatible weather. Summer, as always, followed. The entire little house became an oven.
In September 1973, we moved into a legitimate apartment in the holy city itself, at 3 Rehov Etzel, in a bustling neighborhood known as Givat Tzafartit. French Hill. When I saw that each room had a radiator, I was eager to move in. Civilization at last, thought the foolish person I had become! Little did I know that buildings in Jerusalem, and elsewhere as well, were run by a vaad habeit (think of it as a co-op board) that decided fundamentals like when the central heat would be turned on and off. Our building’s vaad had decided that heat from 6 to 8 p.m. would suffice. The rest of the day our homes were frigid and miserable. Aaah, the joy when the heat went on! Oy, the misery when the heat went off. I remember one nasty, rainy night when we were preparing to go out and decided it would be foolish to waste the heat. We postponed the planned outing. Little did we know that the shocking and imminent arrival of the Yom Kippur War would make heat seem like a trifling concern.
Thus do our lives go by, and the weather is always with us. It’s just one of those things we try to anticipate when we think about joyous events like planning trips, weddings, or receiving siddurim.
Or, conversely, when we are torn asunder while our soldiers are shedding their precious blood on wet and windy battlefields, as we engage in the struggle to regain our peaceful lives, may the words in Noam’s siddur be on our lips and in our hearts, as we pray, May the One who creates peace on high bring peace to us and to all Israel.
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of five. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at firstname.lastname@example.org