In My Own Write: Change in the weather

In Israel, spring is not a simple affair. Not at all.

By
March 9, 2010 23:27

Spring is sprung
The grass is riz;
I wonder where
The birdies is?
They say the bird is on the wing,
Ain't that absurd, I thought
The wing was on the bird.
                              – Attributed to Ogden Nash

I’m back at the Post after four months away, and it was very pleasant strolling down the corridors of the old building greeting colleagues and chewing the fat with refound friends.

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It does pay, however, to be perceived as actually doing something while one is at work, so I used the occasion to ask people: “What association comes into your mind when I say ‘spring’”?

“You mean, ‘What springs to mind?’” a witty colleague shot back.
“Precisely,” I replied. Here’s some of the responses I got:
“Boiiinggg!!!”
“Sunshine, longer days.”
“Green... daffodils (from an ex-Brit), rabbits.”
“Things growing.”
“Not having to wear tights if you go out in a skirt.”
“Less confining clothes, a certain scent...”
“More outdoorsy things to do.”
“Hayfever!”
“Pessah cleaning!!”
“Happiness.”
“Tiny little buds on the trees.”
“Renewal.”

CHEERFUL and optimistic, indeed.

But for some people, spring is very far from being an unmixed delight. To them, the prospect of renewal feels more like a curse than a blessing.

I’ve never forgotten the extreme reaction to this change of season of one student whom I met when I was 18 and in my first year at Britain’s Manchester University – full, as they say, of the joys of spring.

He was a dark, brooding individual, a year or two older than me, short but powerful and charismatic.

“I’m happiest when the sky is grey and stormy,” he told me, adding with surprising savageness: “I hate blue skies. They depress me.”

On another occasion he reduced me to tears with some pointed observation or other, and I avoided him after that.

‘THE LIFETIME risk for depression in all populations ranges between 15 percent and 18% of the population,” wrote Post health reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich in an article earlier this month, quoting Prof. Joseph Zohar of the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. Depression becomes more common when the seasons change, the psychiatrist noted.

The appropriately named SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, feels like depression and, experts believe, is related to seasonal variations in the amount of light. Just as these variations affect animals’ activities –  their reproductive cycles and hibernation patterns, for example – so they may shift the human “biological internal clock” or circadian rhythm.

We need to get ourselves back in sync. And until we do, it’s unsettling.

WE ISRAELIS who hail from Western countries, recalling the gentle glide of other springs that began at winter’s last outpost and continued for months, remain – even years after we made aliya – slightly shocked at the rapid mutation of our seasons, winter transposing into summer like a tap being turned on. It catches us by surprise, even though we know it’s coming.

“It’s arriving too soon,” we can’t help feeling. “We’re not ready for summer yet. Tell it to wait.”

Last year was the exception: a wonderfully balmy May, a month of caressing warmth before the oppressive weather hit.
One year, though, I overslept and missed spring entirely.

SPRING in Israel, wrote Hillel Halkin in this newspaper in 2004, “takes off in a rush and never stops to catch its breath... Ahead of it is not a long, languorous northern [American] summer, its ripening as endless as a July twilight, but a brutal killer of a sun and no rain to quench the fire that will blast everything. It has so little time, this spring of ours. That’s what makes it so gorgeous and so frantic.”

“Wonder why 500,000 Israelis jumped into their cars last weekend to have a look at the flowers blooming in the Negev and on Mount Gilboa?” asked Herb Keinon, waxing lyrical in 2007 on the topic of the Israeli springtime.

 “Simple,” he answered his own question, “because of the knowledge that in two or three weeks those fields of flowers will be gone, their red, yellow and blue panorama turned into a hazy shade of brown.”

As of this writing, in the second week of March 2010, the living’s been easy – some heat, yes, definitely, but lots of rain too and some lovely, really springlike weather.

What’s ahead climatically? That’s anyone’s guess.

WHAT’S AHEAD on the calendar is also unique to this country. In most other places, the advent of spring is a simple, unalloyed pleasure, as those who live there welcome the end of the winter harshness and the transition into a time of light and warmth. Not for them the emotional roller-coasting that awaits Israelis during these several weeks.

While nature unfolds, we close in on ourselves.

Not enough that we must attune our bodies to an altered circadian rhythm, risking depression while we do. On the heels of Pessah – which, like all major holidays everywhere, engenders anxiety and even alienation in some individuals – comes Holocaust Remembrance Day, its drawn-out siren commanding depression over a loss to the Jewish people that can hardly be fathomed, let alone assimilated.

And as if that’s not enough, a week later comes Memorial Day, when we commemorate the thousands fallen in our wars and felled by terror attacks.

On both days, true to Jewish tradition, the Jewish collective here begins its observances the night before, moving into a long day of ceremonies, interviews, gruelling TV films and documentaries and first-person accounts. We see the portraits – hundreds of them – and, as the day progresses, grow heavier with the knowledge of so many cut down before they’d really begun living; we share the anguish of their families.

When Israel commemorates, it really commemorates. It’s a depressing 24 hours.


And then, as Memorial Day ends, everything turns around and it’s Independence Day. Suddenly, there’s music, dancing and widespread joy over having a Jewish home to call our own. Barbecues, trip, parties have been planned.

Some of those mourning their dear ones right up to the minute these festivities begin find it very hard, maybe impossible, to switch from sadness to gladness. Others say the sweetness of celebrating national independence gives perspective to their suffering of just moments before.

WHATEVER the case, springtime in Israel is not a simple affair. Why should we expect it to be? Few things are simple in this place to which we immigrants have transplanted ourselves in the great Jewish adventure of our time.

Pessah is almost here, and what will follow is a dizzying emotional ride. Maybe we should look around and see if there’s anyone – newcomers, widows, lone soldiers, singles – who might welcome a bit of human support during the ups and downs of this unsettling season. We could reach out to them; at least smile at them. You never know, we might get some welcome support ourselves.


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