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March 21, 2011

A rainbow over the Galilee

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/a_rainbow_over_the_galilee_20110321

A dense foggy morning. The end-of-winter storm the forecasters promised us had stolen over the Mediterranean coast and was gradually taking over the Israeli skies.  Already March – almost Purim – and we thought that winter was already behind us. We’d already come to terms with the depressing thought that the scanty amount of precipitation we’d been treated to during the winter of Taf Shin Ayin Aleph was all there would be, and that it will have to sustain us through another parched summer.  More gardens and lawns will be left to dry out. And the price of water will surely keep rising. The Sea of Galilee will continue to recede from its shores. Coming home from school, our children will recite that we need to save water because Israel is drying up.

And then, suddenly, a genuine storm reached our skies. As if from a foreign land where winters are actually wintery. Booming thunder, inky clouds, driving rain and gale winds.  Darkness spread across the country, painting it in shades of gray and black. The green Galilee lost its color.  And then, from out of the rain clouds, smiling and confident, a rainbow appeared, stretching across the Bet Netufa valley.  A perfect arc in brilliant colors.

Six thirty AM, I was on my way to work at the Yezreel Valley College, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the rainbow.  I immediately pulled over outside the gate to our village and got out of the car, even though the intensifying rain threatened to chase away the last remaining rays of sunshine that were still peeking out from behind the clouds.  I took out my cell phone and took a picture of the rainbow.  I had a feeling that the rainbow was a sign of something although I wasn’t sure what. But over the last two days, I figured it out.  The rainbow bridges between pessimism and optimism. Between worry and hope.  The rainbow seems to be promising to us and all of humanity, scurrying across the Promised Land, all too often forgetting that there is a reason and power behind it all: I am here. There is hope. Don’t despair. The covenant is still intact.

There are many reasons for concern here, at the end of winter Taf Shin Ayin Aleph. Yet there is also hope and promise.  And this combination – between worry and hope, seems to be expressed in the weather, the environment, and in nature.

On the one hand, it is hard to decide what to worry about most, about the troubles near or far.  At home, Israel is getting more crowded, plagued by drought, threatened by economic and social inequities, consensuses that were once unquestioned are now in doubt, verbal and physical violence are spreading in society, and living within it, there is a frustrated impatient minority, who understands more and more the power of the weak.

And in the surrounding neighborhood, the old order is collapsing like a house of cards practically overnight, and in place of the familiar problems, we may face a whole new and even larger set of problems. Iran continues to arm itself and call for the destruction of Israel. Entrenched dictators may be replaced with new, even worse ones, and peaceful borders could ignite.

And the larger world is less and less patient with this little country, with its chutzpa, that is seen, paradoxically, in spite of its small size and history of persecution of its people, as the violent bully of the neighborhood. Recently I heard about bizarre guilt feelings: Germany feels guilty towards the Palestinian people, because the Jewish people, which were practically exterminated by the German Nazis 70 years ago, found shelter and a national home in Israel at the expense of the Palestinians…  And for this reason the Germans need to support the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel.

Yet on the other hand, there are reasons for hope. The neighboring regimes are changing, and those that replace them could be for the better.  Perhaps this actually represents the authentic desire of the neighboring peoples to take their futures into their hands and head in the direction of democracy and freedom?

And among ourselves, in spite of it all, we have innovation, creativity, and many reasons for pride and optimism.  Two weeks ago in Eilat there was an annual conference on alternative energy. Thousands of companies and interested parties from around the world came to this Red Sea city. Gilad Maoz, a friend and a leading attorney in this field, told me that the conference is turning into one of the most important events in the industry, and that Israel is one of the leading centers for achievement and innovation in alternative energy. They say that after the exodus from Egypt, Moses had to lead the Israelites through the desert for forty years – in search of the only country in the Middle East without oil…. So we don’t have oil, and barely have water, but sunshine and creative minds we have in spades.

In the Book of Genesis, in the portion of Noah, it is written: “I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth.”  And so, in spite of the troubles, threats and worries, spring is around the corner, more colorful and exuberant than ever. The mountains and valleys of the Galilee are brilliant green, yellow, pink and red, carpeted in cyclamens, anemones and wheat.  And while these lines are being written, blessed rains are falling across the country, quenching the parched earth and extending a parting gift from winter, before it disappears until next year. And every so often a rainbow appears from between the clouds and reminds us: there is hope. The covenant stands.

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