In the beginning of July the temperatures were mild for the time of year. Almost worryingly mild. “It’s too mild for an Israeli summer,” people said, seemingly concerned that evil was lurking behind the momentary enjoyment. These mild temperatures contrasted starkly with the heatwave in Europe at the same time. 96 degrees in Berlin. 104 in Barcelona. 95 in Paris. The contrast led to that very human emotion: schadenfreude. Schadenfreude towards Europeans, whom we always envy, and towards our Israeli neighbors who flew there anticipating a refreshing vacation but instead struggled with unprecedented heat.
But by the end of July we Israelis had lost our schadenfreude and gained our own heatwave. Albeit a fairly typical war-free Israeli summer (not wishing to tempt fate), yet the entire country was appalled by two brutal terror attacks committed by Jews: the attack on marchers in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, and the arson at the home of an innocent family in the Palestinian village of Duma.
So what typifies an Israeli summer?
First, nature. If Israel in spring is like a bride—fresh, charming, decorative and colorful—in summer Israel seems like the same bride, but thirty years on after an exhausting life: gray, dusty, sweaty and spent. Israel in August waits impatiently for autumn rains to wash away the summer sweat and restore luster to its cheeks.
Israelis’ patience—not high at the best of times—is at its nadir during summer. Heat, dust and sweat exacerbate the average Israeli’s already-short temper. The innocent Western tourist stuck in a traffic jam in Tel Aviv in August, who sees the locals shouting and gesticulating vehemently at each other, quickly forgets the myth of cultured Jews.
Israel’s vacation culture lags significantly behind the European vacances. But when the children’s summer camps and grandparents are exhausted, the only alternative is to take them on a family vacation. But where and for how much? Israel is small and cramped. The population grows, but the borders threaten to shrink. And anyway, those who decide to vacation within Israel, face high prices that bear no relation to our tough economic situation.
Friends of ours took their six children to a modest kibbutz hotel. Accommodation alone—3 rooms for 2 nights—cost nearly $2,000! For the same money, they could have spent a whole week on a lakeshore in Europe, with money left over for ice cream.
Yet most hotels in Israel are full over the summer and everyone takes vacation. Why? Because there is no alternative. And maybe because no one knows what tomorrow will bring. This time last year we were at war… and Iran is on the road to nukes… so let’s live it up while we can…
So what is good in our country in the summer? Plenty. I will mention three things:
One: Summer fruits. If you haven’t tasted our cool red watermelon, sweet lychees, juicy golden mangoes, or figs dripping with honey, hurry up and do so before the season ends. There’s nothing like Israel’s summer fruits!
Two: You might have noticed that despite the Sea of Galilee drying up, we no longer are being driven crazy with threats to save water. We still did not get much rain this winter, but Israel, despite all its battles on other fronts, has managed to find solutions to one of its biggest problems since its establishment: enough water. Thanks to desalination, improved water transportation system and water purification, Israel in 2015 no longer has a water shortage!
And last but not least: In the Canary Islands the weather is always mild. But after a while that gets boring. What do you have to look forward to? What can you complain about?
In closing, and apropos schadenfreude: Despite everything, an Israeli summer is preferable to the interminable frozen winters of countries such as Sweden or Canada. After all, everything in life is relative, isn’t it?
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He serves as Vice President of External Relations and Development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College. Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. His book “Son of My Land” was published in 2013. Sagi can be contacted at: email@example.com.
This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.