By Shmuel Katz
With the coming of the fall months, the rainy season has once again arrived. And last Friday (really Thursday night) was the zeman for us in Israel to begin praying for rain. For thousands of years, we have beseeched the heavens for a plentiful rainy season—upon which we rely for the success of what has historically been a mostly agricultural economy.
Amazingly, the zeman opened with a lot of rain. We had rain on Thursday night, much of Friday, and even a lot during Shabbat. (We got caught in the rain on the way home from a bar mitzvah and were thrilled the whole way home—we love the rain.) So we had a terrific kickoff to the season and we have had a couple of more days of rain on top of it.
This is normally when I share the latest water statistics from this side of the ocean. The Kinneret, our single largest source of water, has dropped almost 2 meters since the high point last April. This is pretty normal. Unfortunately, since last year’s rainy season was incredibly disappointing, this has put us within 10 centimeters of the “Lower Red Line,” a level under which there are elevated levels of contaminants, which is less healthy for us and for the ecosystem.
We haven’t been below that level for a couple of years, but it looks like we are going to dip below it, despite the recent rains. The first 10 to 15 centimeters of rainfall saturates the ground and seeps into the water table before any significant runoff can contribute to a rise in the Kinneret level. Hopefully, unlike last year (when the month of December was a record-setter for rainfall, but the rest of the season was dry), we hope and pray that this year the rains will continue for the next six months.
This is also when I bemoan the low level of the Kinneret and talk about how disastrously dangerous a bad rainy season would be for this country. Yet, as I have pointed out over the past few years, Israel has become a world leader in water desalination, and a dry season is no longer as terrible as it used to be.
We can, if needed, produce huge amounts of water, enough water to cover our irrigation and drinking needs. And there is therefore no great hue and cry here in Israel, despite the low water level. The last time the water dipped below the Lower Red Line, there was a huge call for awareness and conservation. But now, there is no attention being paid to the issue at all. Which is both good and bad. We are pretty much self-sufficient in this area, and that is a good thing, but there is a greater environment here than just irrigation and water for human use. There are rivers and streams. There are dry riverbeds that need a good cleansing. There are huge amounts of natural “trash” that needs to be washed away and eventually degrade into “plant food” and a whole host of other natural uses for rainfall that we lose in “bad” rain years.
Yet there is a deeper loss here—one that we lose no matter what the rain results are, but one that could be even more significant than the ecological ones. By becoming water-independent, we have lost some of our emotional reliance upon Hashem. Yes, we pray for rain. In a dry year we will continue to add the special Aneinu tefillah for rain. Yet I think that some of our fervor will be gone. Our conviction that we control our resources instead of them being heaven-sent is reinforced by our “independence.”
As evidenced by the lack of alarm here over the low water level, water and rain, and our need for both, seem to have become less important here. And although we might think this is a positive thing, I am concerned that this brings us further away from where we need to be. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.