Out There: Rainy Truths

Those matters which preoccupy a country speak volumes. The US follows the NASDAQ, Saudis follow the price of oil; and we, well, we follow the Kinneret's water level.

Coming from , a land of hurtling rivers and mountain lakes, icy glaciers and four-foot April snowstorms, I grew up taking water for granted.
You never had to worry about it; it was always there. Sure, once in an odd summer there were dry spells when you could only water the lawn on even- or odd-numbered days of the month, but ­ all in all ­ water was not a concern that gnawed at the mind.
Until I moved here in the early 1980s. Then I became enamored of the country’s preoccupation with ’s water level. It was almost a national pastime, watching to see how high it would rise in the winter and how low it would drop in the summer.
This was back in the ‘80s, when people would watch the Kinneret with keen eyes. Everything else could be falling apart ­ the war in Lebanon going badly, inflation galloping, Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres feuding over who would rotate with whom and when ­ but if the Kinneret rose a centimeter, there was a grand sense of national achievement.
I liked that feeling. There was something refreshingly primordial about it, a sensation that in this super technological era ­ the age of frozen broccoli and microwavable dinners ­ you were still connected to the elements. If it rained, you felt good; if it didn’t, you were concerned. When my kids were in preschool and their long Israeli-socialization process began, the importance of the Kinneret was drummed incessantly into their heads.
I’d wash the dishes and fail to turn off the water when soaping up a glass, and one of the kids would yell, “Abba, you’re going to dry out the Kinneret.” Same chorus if I’d keep the water running while brushing my teeth.
In our home we divided the country into the good and considerate ­ those who fixed leaky faucets ­ and the bad and selfish, those who washed their cars with a hose.
"Abba,” my daughter remarked as a child, “I’ll never marry someone who washes his car with a hose.”
ONCE THE Internet made it into the house, we watched the Kinneret’s water level each day via an animated yellow rubber duck floating upon a diagram of the lake on Ynet. We could sit there for hours ­ the whole family, eating popcorn and just content as could be ­ watching that little rubber ducky on the computer bob up and down, up and down.
Those matters which preoccupy a country speak volumes about that country. The follows the NASDAQ, which gives a peek into its capitalistic psyche. The Saudis follow the price of a barrel of oil, and for good reason. And we, well, we follow the Kinneret’s water level.
There are two things we can discover about ourselves while looking at the way we look at the Kinneret. First, our red lines are flexible; and secondly, we are never happy.
Regarding the red lines, it actually takes some investigation to understand the Knesset’s water lines. There is the top red line (kav adom elyon) and the lower red line (kav adom tachton). This itself is kind of weird, because isn’t a red line supposed to mark a point beyond which there is no passage? How can you have two red lines?
One would think that the Kinneret's red line would be the level beyond which no further pumping of water could take place. And, actually, that was the case until a few years ago, when the lower red line was reached but the country still needed Kinneret water. So instead of stopping the pumping and initiating rationing, we just established a new line, called it a black line (kav hashachor), and defined that as the point beyond which any pumping would irreversibly damage the lake.
Until, of course, we reach that point, and then we’ll just create a lower black line to accommodate the new reality.
All of this is obviously just a metaphor for the country’s diplomatic situation. First, we never really set a red line because ­ as a country we can’t agree to where it should be. And second, every time we do set a red line, we show a little later that we are willing to move it. The good news is that this illustrates a healthy ability to adapt to reality; the bad news is that it sends confusing signals to everyone, friend and foe alike.
AS TO never being happy, just note the reporting of last week’s abundant and blessed rainfall.
”The Kinneret’s level rose by three centimeters over the past three days, and for the first time since July 2008 is above the lower red line,” Israel Radio reported Tuesday morning, leading my heart to skip, my legs to want to leap in exaltation. But then the other shoe dropped: “The level is currently four meters and 18 centimeters below the upper red line.”
Actually, this is better than it was in years past, when it seemed that no matter how much it rained, it never fell in the right spot. If it rained so hard that parts of southern Tel Aviv flooded and rubber rafts were sent to rescue people, we were told that the rain was wasted, as it all ran off into the sea.
If Fureidis flooded in the North, as it often does, we were told it wasjust too much water to be absorbed. No matter what happens, we’realways told that the water situation is dire. And therein lies theunique Israeli/Jewish component to this rain watch. You think we’redoing well? Forget about it. Celebrate not; rest not; strive for more;complain.
Or, as a headline writer summed it up beautifully in last Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post,“Rains no cause for celebration as Kinneret reaches lowest red line.”Those seeking to understand would do well to study that headline,because it conveys two important truths about this country: There is nosuch thing as plain good news; and there are always other red lines.