Blessed drops: The magic of Israel’s first rain

Drops of moisture mean so much more to us here in the Holy Land

Taking joyous cover on Jaffa Road, Oct. 20. (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Taking joyous cover on Jaffa Road, Oct. 20.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
On Tuesday afternoon, October 20, during the week when the Torah portion of Noah – where rain plays a central role – was read, Jerusalem experienced the first rain of the season. With a prayer that this year’s rains will help wash away the ill effects of the deadly coronavirus, we present some of the heartwarming reactions of locals to Jerusalem’s first rain of 5781.
Submissions have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Arye Dobuler, Jerusalem
The rain started around 4:10 p.m., after being preceded by several minutes of low rumbling thunder. I had organized a post-lockdown get-together for members of the Facebook group Jerusalem Dati Singles Meet n’ Mingle 20s and 30s for 4:30 p.m.
I couldn’t believe it. Like many others on my street, I too went outside to look at this strange occurrence. I had been checking the weather report nearly daily the week before and even the day of. It not only had clear skies and temperatures in the upper 20s, but it said 0% chance of rain.
Of course, man plans and God laughs. So down poured the rain, and with it, over half the people didn’t show up to the event – which was, in retrospect, ironically named “Fun in the Sun”!
I wrote on the group that “Fun in the Rain” is still happening, and a bunch of men and women braved the elements and, slowly but surely, arrived to enjoy a walk in a nature location near the German Colony. We enjoyed the fresh smell in the air, the raindrops on the flowers and even walking around drenched. It was, after all, in the name of finding love!
I see rain as a blessing, even if it doesn’t come down exactly when we want it.
Misting in downtown Jerusalem last May after a particularly rainy winter (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ruti Eastman, Neveh Daniel
It was always difficult to say the required morid hageshem (praising God for making the rain descend) prayer in Baltimore while digging our car out of the snow or dealing with the fifth day of a torrential downpour.
When we made aliyah, we were enchanted with a ritual on the day after Simhat Torah: Little children would quickly put away toys, rugs and furniture that had been on the porch through the summer. Then, often within days, the first rains would come.
One year, we were in Tel Aviv in the early days of fall. From our table in the café we saw two elderly Jews of no apparent religious affiliation meet at the door. The one coming in pointed to the sky and said to his friend, “Geshem” (rain). The other directed a kiss to the sky and said, “Toda l’Hashem” (Thank you to God).
And finally, an “only in Israel” pre-aliyah story:
My 12-year-old son was far too cool to wear a coat in October. After all, we were visiting Israel from Baltimore, which was much colder. The rain started coming down in sheets, and he was huddling inside my coat with me, rethinking his position.
A man came across the street to the bus stop where we were waiting, removing his sweater and scarf. “Here. I just picked these up at the shuk across the street. They were really cheap. Your son can have them, and I’ll get myself another set.”
My son kept that sweater and scarf well into the early years of his marriage, to remind him of that act of kindness.
There is nothing like rain in Israel: its timing, its importance to our very survival, its connection to our prayers, the way it brings out the best in Israelis.
Ittay Flescher (Plus61J Media Jerusalem correspondent), Jerusalem
It doesn’t rain here in summer
So the first drops from the sky in fall
Have a special name
It happened today in Jerusalem
Which no forecast predicted
Out of the blue
There was a crack in the sky
And the rain came in
May it wash out from our midst
Iniquity and corruption
And bring forth
A city flooded with solidarity
Mutual respect
Showers at the shuk on Tuesday (Marc Israel Sellem)
Sharona Halickman, Jerusalem
When we made aliyah 16 years ago, I decided to teach a Talmud class on Tractate Ta’anit, which speaks about the laws of mentioning rain, asking for rain and declaring a fast day if it doesn’t rain. I found the fact that in Israel, we only have rain from after Sukkot to Passover fascinating.
There have been years where it began raining like clockwork, right after we began to mention rain in our prayers – mashiv haruah u’morid hagashem (the One Who makes the wind blow, and makes the rain descend), or after we began asking for rain – v’ten tal u’matar livracha (send dew and rain for a blessing).
But there have also been years where there were massive prayer gatherings to ask for rain. One year, there was no rain at all and almost half the winter season was over. The rabbis scheduled a huge gathering, and right before it took place, we ended up with a huge snowstorm!
The rain this week was special. Rain is considered a blessing after Sukkot, and this year we can use all the blessings we can get!
Shelley Levey, Ramat Beit Shemesh
On a trip before our pilot trip and eventual aliyah, we wanted to visit the Kotel one last time before going back to the States. It was November, and it was a cloudy, glum day. The traffic to the Damascus Gate was backed up and at a standstill. We were so close. We and the few others left on the bus asked if we could disembark, and the driver agreed.
We spent some extended time at the Kotel, davening (praying) that we would make the correct decision about our retirement and eventual aliyah. It started raining and then pouring. My raincoat soaked through. My husband and I decided it was time to go.
We caught a taxi and for 20 minutes, we didn’t move. Nothing. We thought maybe there was an accident, so we decided to walk to Jaffa Gate to catch a bus from there. We made our way through the Old City and finally came out at Jaffa Gate, where traffic was moving.
We had no idea what the cause of the traffic situation was, until I asked our taxi driver. He explained that the streets are extremely slippery on the first rainy day, and everyone is extra cautious driving, causing terrible traffic backups.
I like to think that this was God’s way of keeping us from leaving so fast. Stay with me just a little bit longer. Well, we made aliyah this past December and while packing up, we included our rain boots! We are so thrilled to be a part of this wonderful country!
Rachel Furman Lewkowicz, Jerusalem
I have always loved the rain. I find thunderstorms exciting – the wind, the rain, the sound, the flashes of light. I guess this is my version of “living dangerously.” I love the smell of the rain.
I hate being caught in the rain. If my hearing devices get wet, I can be in serious trouble. They are too costly and time-consuming to replace, so I avoid being out in it. But if I did not have that worry, I would dance in the rain.
Coming to Israel, rain took on an added aspect – that of holiness. These days I look forward to the rain. And the first rain of the season, I feel joyful, glad of heart and thrilled. We pray for rain, and then the rain comes. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, but it always comes. It feels like another gift from Hashem. Water is sustenance. Rain equals blessing.
So now, I feel embraced by the rain, whether just a light drizzle or a raging storm. I know that I can look forward to lots of greenness around the country.
In the old country, as much as I liked rain, my feelings toward the rain were more about the inconvenience of it, but here, I rarely consider it that. I consider it a blessing.
'Yoreh' of October: Under a light rail shelter
Shifra Penkower, Efrat
I love how the first rain of the season in Israel is cause for such celebration. Suddenly, we’re all like little puppies frolicking in the raindrops.
If you mix up the Hebrew letters in yoreh, first rain, you get ho-rey. Hooray!
Leora Pushett, Jerusalem
I got caught in the first rain of the season this year. I had stepped out to bring something to a friend who lives about three minutes away, and was surprised to hear thunder; the rain soon followed. Giant heavy drops – maybe “blobs” of rain is more precise. As I raced back home, I heard people calling out the blessing and passed an Arab construction worker filming the downpour with his phone.
I must admit that I knew I wasn’t just getting caught in the rain. I was ducking the drops of the yoreh, the first rain of the winter season, the one we mentioned in the Shema. I continue to revel in the confluence of Torah and everyday life here in Israel, where rain isn’t just regular rain but literally biblical and cause for celebration and awe.
As I dried off, I smiled as a father in the opposite building held his nine-month-old baby in an open window, showing him the marvelous water falling from the sky, and let him feel rain for the first time in his life.
Irene Rabinowitz, Jerusalem
The sound of thunder caught me by surprise. As a native New Englander, rain sometimes felt like it was an intrusion, but this was the sound of hope. I lived near the sea in the United States, so moist weather and humidity were ever-present.
The first rain in Jerusalem is always welcome, and every day since Sukkot, we wait. This year, when lockdowns prevented the usual connections with nature, it felt like that connection was opening up again. The sound, the smell, the washing of summer dust, all of it is part of the joy and blessing of living in Jerusalem.
Yisrael Rosenberg, Jerusalem
The difference between rain in Israel and rain outside of the country is equivalent to the difference between heaven and earth.
Growing up in America, I always viewed rain as an unmitigated nuisance. Boots, hats, cold, umbrellas, socks that always ended up getting soaking wet. Who liked rain? And what was worse, it was always the rain that washed away the snow we waited so patiently for every year.
By contrast, in Israel, we look at every drop of rain as a blessing. Israel is a Middle Eastern country that is always thirsty for rain, which comes only in the aptly named rainy season, the winter months of October through March. The first rain is always a celebration for virtually everyone. In traditional Jewish prayer, a supplication for rain comes every year, right at the beginning of the rainy season, because Israeli agriculture depends heavily on it.
This year’s first rain was a case in point. Just a few days ago, only a short while after the special prayer for rain that religiously observant Jews say thrice daily had kicked into effect, the skies opened up and the rain came pouring down for a precious few minutes. Children were hopping and skipping in the streets, and that raw, pungent smell of drenched earth came wafting up from all around.
When there is rain, there is bounty, and there is blessing. Only in Israel did I come to understand this. So here, if my socks get wet when I walk home in the rain, I don’t mind anymore.
Sharon Sanders (Christian leader), Jerusalem
Just as within grapes, there is a blessing within the rainfall. Rain inspires me; it’s like a kiss from Heaven.
I just watched a documentary on how rain formed the Grand Canyon and chiseled the most beautiful of mountains. It is my prayer that all Israel will see this unusual happening as a sign of God’s love for His people and land. Rain makes everything greener and fresher, and if we allow it, it also refreshes our spirits and waters our souls.
Wendy Schottenstein, Jerusalem
First rain in Israel is special. I remember my kids running to get their boots and dancing outside in the rain.
Yesterday, driving home, the guy next to me started making weird wiggly motions with his hands and fingers. Then he opened his window. I was nervous he was going to complain about my driving.
He said, “Wow, the first rain.”
How wonderful.
Sam Solomon, Beit Zayit
One of the things that make Israel exceptional is the connection between the Hebrew language, the Land of Israel and agriculture.
Here’s an example. This is the first rain, very early rain, of the winter season. It actually has a name. In fact, the first rain of the season and the last rain of the season have names. We say it also in our prayers. The first rain is called yoreh; so now, on October 20, we’ve just had our yoreh. And then the last rain is going to be called malkosh, and we say yoreh u’malkosh, that the first rains and the last rains are extraordinary.