Passover and spring are here, and with them have come a new-found freedom for the lucky people who are fully vaccinated. Many of us who have been stuck inside for the past year are now venturing outside and out into the world. Thank you, Pfizer and Moderna! Almond trees are blooming. In my neighborhood my beloved Persian Silk Tree and the Orchid Trees are back in bloom. It is glorious to take a morning walk and look up into branches filled with blossoms in countless shades of pink and white. Passover celebrates spring, reawakening and freedom. Never has this been more appropriate than now, as we emerge from our Covid confinement.
With the spring comes the weird Mideastern weather we are accustomed to: heatwaves, sandstorms, and dusty rain. These ancient weather patterns should come as no surprise to us. Of course, familiarity does not deter us Israelis from grumbling about it. Grumbling is something we do so well. Last week brought a khamsin heat wave and sandstorms, then sprinkles, and now actual rain – much to the chagrin of those who had just spent a week thoroughly cleaning their homes for Pesach. With my sympathies to the frustrated cleaner-uppers, I must say I am thrilled about this weather. They say the khamsin (or sharav in Hebrew) comes across Egypt from the Saharan winds. Sand hit my face as I walked through Tel Aviv the other day. I smiled despite the annoyingly dusty wind. Yes, I am a weirdo. For one thing, I had my lovely face-mask to protect my nose and mouth. (Thank you, Covid-19.) And also the khamsin reminds me that we live in a part of the world where Africa, Europe, and the Levant meet. The name of our region, the Levant, comes from the French word: lever, ‘to rise,’ as in sunrise, meaning the east. Growing up in Bridgeport Connecticut, I dreamt of going far away. I thought of all the exotic places I would go one day. Finding myself at home in a region named for the sunrise is a dream come true for me. Anyone who’s ever visited Bridgeport in the winter or the muddy spring, will understand the welcomeness of a Mideastern sunrise.
The weather pattern is particularly appropriate this week, since the khamsin, or East Wind, (called ruah kadim in the Bible) is supposed to be the cause of the parting of the Red Sea. That is, if you trust the ancient meteorologists who contributed to the book of Exodus. Rain is a blessing in this part of the world, with annual prayers for rain and even a special blessing to be said upon seeing a rainbow (Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to His covenant, and keeps His promise.) The part about keeping promises is because of the conversation just before the flood when God promised Noah that after the storm would come a new beginning. The rainbow after the flood was the sign of that promise being kept.
And now, with the weird spring weather this week, it feels as if there is a rainbow overhead. Our streets are filled with people, masked but undeterred by all the new rules and regulations. Israelis rush around getting ready for the first real holiday celebration we have had in over a year. Yes, we know it’s not over. Yes, we hear the ominous warnings of new Covid variants out there. But despite the looming threats, we feel free and hopeful. Passover, the exodus from slavery. What better time to celebrate breaking free?
I started writing posts on this blog just a year ago, as Israel went into its first Covid-19 lockdown. One of my first posts was inspired by Pesach “Counting Blessings Instead of Plagues”. I spent one year inside my apartment for most of every day, save for my daily early morning walk. Alone but not lonely. I have been lucky to have been able to work, teaching online. The daily contact with students, as well as daily calls with family and friends kept me somewhat sane. (I say somewhat, since I must admit sanity was never one of my strong points!) Nevertheless, here I am, one year later, still smiling and still counting my blessings.
I decided to call the Covid Confinement my isolation vacation, and spent the year doing as many positive things as I could: Walking up and down hills, rediscovering my neighborhood parks; chopping and slicing to create healthy food for my Salad A Day challenge; Wearing bright cloth masks, color-coordinated to match my outfits. And of course, the big gift of this Covid year: rebuilding my relationship with my mom through our daily phone calls.
Pesach comes rather early this year, following the first day of spring by less than a week. As I understand the rule, Pesach always falls on the night of the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. And this year, of all years, the timing seems entirely appropriate. Pesach is the original new year of our people, a celebration of spring, of birth and rebirth, a time of renewal and reawakening. To me, this is the most logical season to celebrate new life. I spent last Pesach alone, with a solitary seder, which was peaceful but strange. This year I will enjoy a small seder with my Israeli family, hugs and Sephardic charoset included. I cannot wait.