Jewish Israelis who were observing the Sukkot holiday, during which many sleep in the booths lacking a solid roof, were forced inside by thunderstorms throughout Israel on Monday night.The storms were accentuated by bright flashes of lightning and rolling thunder, marking some of the first strong storms of the rainy season. In Israel, it only rains during the fall and winter; the late spring and the summer are generally dry as a bone.
The Darga Stream, Og Stream, most of the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and routes in streams in the Judean Desert were closed on Tuesday due to the possibility of flash floods. The reserve's synagogue site and parts of the David Stream trail will be open in the Ein Gedi area.On Sukkot, many observant Jews eat and sleep in the traditional booths built for the holiday. The roofs of these temporary structures are usually made out of palm branches or other material grown from the ground, meaning they are not rainproof.The Sukkot holiday has a large focus on water and rain in Jewish tradition.During the intermediate days of the holiday, many Jews celebrate a festivity known as Simchat Beit Hashoevah (Rejoicing of the Water-Drawing House) to commemorate a service that was done in the Jerusalem Temple during which a water libation was offered. The service was accompanied by intense festivities including dancing, music and fire-juggling. The Mishnah, the first major book of Jewish oral tradition, says that "he who has not seen the Simchat Bet Hashoevah has never seen rejoicing in his life." Nowadays, the celebration consists of food, music and dancing.The holiday of Shemini Atzeret (Eighth-day gathering) – also celebrated as Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah) in Israel – ends off the Sukkot holiday. (Simchat Torah, a celebration of the completion and restarting of the year-long cycle of reading through the Five Books of Moses, is celebrated on the day after Shemini Atzeret outside of Israel.) During Shemini Atzeret, a traditional prayer is said to welcome in the rainy season and to pray for rain.According to the Talmud, rain on the Sukkot holiday (before the holiday of Shemini Atzeret) signifies the Creator's dissatisfaction with our service, as if he is pouring water on us in displeasure. The medieval commentator Rashi wrote that rain that falls on Sukkot "symbolizes a curse." Many Israelis, however, may regard the rain as a welcome relief from the hot temperatures in Israel earlier on Monday. Small rain showers are also expected on Wednesday in southern and central Israel.
Thunder and lightning over the promenade in the town of Efrat in Gush Etzion (Credit: Efrat Municipality Spokesperson)