This is a post I’ve been meaning to get out for a while. It dates to my time with Livnot U’Lehibanot (To Build and Be Built) in Tzfat back in December 2010. (Actually published on 27 February 2011).

What’s it like to celebrate the rain?

This is a question I had never asked myself before I had actually done it.

Before I begin with my story, there’s a few things you should know if you don’t already. First off, Israel is a tiny country. Like, really tiny. Smaller than the state of New Jersey, tiny. That’s why, in some ways, it’s so surprising to me that Israel makes the news so often, and that so many people have an opinion on the issues of a country that most likely could never and will never affect them directly. But, at least Israel isn’t just a suburb of New York.

I digress.

Most of the land within the tiny state of Israel is a barely arable, barely livable, desert. What land is arable, depends heavily on the hope that there will be enough rain. Despite innovations like drip irrigation that reduce demand, Israel needs a reliable source of clean water. An intense drought made 2010 an especially harsh year for farmers and everyone that depends on them.

Thus the people of Israel prayed for rain. And boy did it rain.

The city of Tzfat is the birthplace and home of the Kabbalah, the mystical side of Judaism. Tzfat’s residents (especially in the old city, where I currently reside) are well known for their religious fervor. When people say “Thank God” in this city — “ברוך השם” (Baruch HaShem), they really really mean it. Back home when I hear those words they seem, well, not Jewish. I tend to think of Evangelical Christians asking for money on television.

When the people of Tzfat pray for rain, they mean it. On Friday night we planned to venture out to see how the religious prayed in their beautiful synagogues. I expected that they would be sheltering themselves from the weather as much as possible. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When we arrived at the כיכר (kikar, town square), we were greeted by a massive throng of Israelis, young and old, singing and dancing in the rain. It’s never surprising to see children playing in the rain, I loved to do it (and still kinda do). But what took me aback was energy and fervor of the people around me. We, of course, joined in.

They embraced us as friends, and then pulled us along in a frenzy of celebration. The louder we sang, and the faster we danced the harder it seemed to rain. By the time the rabbi called the yeshiva boys back inside, we were soaked through, and grinning from ear to ear.

For much of the time we were in Tzfat after that, it poured. More than I thought was possible in an arid country, especially one experiencing a drought.

It’s always been something of an oddity for me: to really feel it in your bones that you’ve prayed and in some mysterious fashion, God has answered your prayers. I really don’t think I have much in the way of religious beliefs, but when our group created shirts commemorating our time with Livnot, we used the slogan “We Make It Rain”. I’d like to think that in some small way, it’s true.