There’s something special about the yoreh, Israel’s first rain of the year. Something consoling, encouraging, hopeful.
The first rain is even more significant after a dry, tempestuous and cruel summer like the summer of 2014.
The first rain signifies the transition from dry, grey, sharp-edged and cracked to green, colourful, tender, smooth-edged, at peace.
The first rain in Israel brings with it promise.
When my wife and I took our Shabbat afternoon walk on the hills around Hoshaya after the first rain this year, I was reminded of the words of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: “If you believe you can damage, then believe you can repair.” The dark Galilee soil was still cracked from the summer aridity, but the purple crocuses were already sprouting, like little girls scattering rose petals before the bride on her way to the chuppah and calling, “Here Comes the the Bride!”
The crocuses, the cyclamen leaves that emerge from clefts in the rocks, the grasses that are starting to carpet our countryside, the daffodil trumpets, the asphodels, hyacinths, and all the other winter plants bring with them hope and consolation.
But Nature can also deceive. Beneath the colors still lies the same divided land. The same piece of ground. Under the same sky. The first rain brought forth a covering for the scars of the past summer, but underneath the scabs the wounds still bleed.
The Arab town Kafr Kanna, a mere stone’s throw from Hoshaya, has a significant place in the history of the three Abrahamic religions. For example, it is the location of Jesus’s first miracle and is an important station on The Jesus Trail that runs from Nazareth to Capernaum.
The November 8th death of Khair Hamdan from Kafr Kanna, who was shot by police after he attacked them, ignited a storm of violent protests in the Israeli Arab community. The background to the protests is the enormous tension within the Arab community, tension that roils like lava in an active volcano. If not for this tension, the incident would have ended with determining whether the police officer committed an error of judgement. But given the background, many in the Arab community claim it shows Arab blood is cheap.
Israeli Arabs live under almost unbearable pressures. On one hand, their Jewish neighbours and Israeli institutions are covertly – or even overtly – suspicious of their loyalty, and they experience more difficulties than their Jewish colleagues with employment, education and housing. On the other hand, members of the Palestinian community (to which they are related not just by language, history, and culture but also by family) suspect Israeli Arabs of collaborating with the enemy and of not identifying sufficiently with the Palestinian people and their suffering. And last, the Israeli Arab community has to cope with the same challenges of life that every Israeli faces. The Gaza war this summer only exacerbated the tension, suspicion and pressures on Arab Israeli citizens.
Based on the 3-letter root of the word yoreh, one of the meanings our Sages gave is “the rain that teaches (moreh) people they need to cover their roofs, gather in their fruit and take care of all their needs.” The yoreh, the first rain, tells us we must prepare for winter and seal up the weak spots through which rain can drip into the home. It is the wake-up call signaling the arrival of winter.
The challenges of Arabs and Jews living together in Israeli society is already well past the point where it needs a “yoreh” to signal its arrival. It has been clearly threatening for a long time. The heavy rains of the yoreh that heralded the start of this coming winter only exposed the contradiction between the glorious colours that cover the ground and the sensitive nerves of Israeli society, which last summer were left more exposed and vulnerable than ever.
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He serves as Vice President of External Affairs 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.