It’s hard to believe tiny Israel, nestled in the Middle East, has a range of seasons and temperature zones similar to the US. Winter begins mid-November and ends mid-April. Israel has the icy cold in Northern Galilee similar to Minnesota in the winter, hot and humid in Tel Aviv similar to Miami in the summer, dry and arid in the Negev/desert similar to Tucson most of the year. Drive any direction from Jerusalem 45 minutes and you will find yourself in a different micro system.
Jerusalem weather is closest to the Chicago climate, albeit winter is milder. As a result, Chicago is devoid of color all winter whereas Israel is green. A Jerusalem winter has occasional snow and freezing temperatures, sunny mild days, short daylight hours and strong winds, but mostly rain.
My favorite time of year to be in Israel is March/April when it’s at the peak of freshness. Jerusalem hills are covered in wild red poppies blooming alongside budding trees, the Galilee has gushing waterfalls and snow capped mountains and the Negev/desert begins blooming due to the rains. In our prayer book we pray for the rainy season and celebrate the rains in Israel. We watch the level of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) rise and know our survival depends on the rains (before Israel invented desalinization).
We just returned (early April) from an extraordinary hiking trip in the Negev/desert organized by The National Ramah Camping Movement. Israel has a trail called the Israeli National Trail (Shvil Israel) which spans the entire length of the country, (equivalent to our Pacific Coast Trail). We hiked the Shvil. It’s a crazy strenuous set of trails, not typical tourist hiking. You know you are on it when you see a rock with painted stripes. Simple system, follow your color pattern.
Israelis love to tease Americans saying kids as young as seven can hike the trails. Are they encouraging or poking fun at us? Young kids can manage the trails, they are brought up hiking. It’s a national pastime. They become like mountain goats, skipping up and down the mountains.
While hiking, we saw magnificent flowers and an occasional oasis in the same desert Moses and our forefathers/mothers did when leaving Egypt. They must have seen them as well. Is it a coincidence they left Egypt early Spring as the oasis pools in the desert were filling from the rains, the flowers were blooming, and edible plants/herbs were sprouting everywhere?
Giant rocks appeared to be casually tossed on their sides. I laughed. My Mom used to chant the Psalmist’s Malecha Hayam during the seder, (I have now continued the tradition). There is a verse which refers to the hills dancing and skipping. I know what inspired that verse…
We drank from our backpacks which contained precious water-filled sacks and tried imagining what it must have been like traveling for days in the desert on limited water supplies only to stumble upon a life giving spring of water. Hiking before reading the Passover Haggadah at Seder is a wonderful way to remind ourselves of the importance of freedom. Our People risked their lives for freedom and an opportunity to live in our own land. We still do.
Each Shabbat when lighting candles I remember those who came before us and the sacrifices they made. This holiday reminds US to recall/relive our days leaving Egypt. I’m always humbled when I experience something as if it were the first time.