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Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The Water Situation
I’m sorry blog readers – I have been really naughty – good thing Christmas isn’t a thing here or I’d be getting a lump of coal – I haven’t posted a blogpost in a long time. I written them, just not posted. So along with my sincere apologies, here is a post that I wrote on December 15th. I have not changed the dates because I wanted to get it to press. I have written a short update below.
Let me start off by saying that before this week, I had not seen more than a strong drizzle in nearly four months since I arrived here… it does not rain a lot in Israel.
I have written in the past about the dire water situation in Israel. The country is under a constant water shortage and is heavily reliant on rain as its water source. Growing up in America, I have always taken for granted the simple things like a constant supply of fresh water. Israel, in its innovative style is the world’s most advanced nation at water recycling and management. Israel treats, purifies and recycles 80% of its waste water before it is discarded as final waste water. Spain trails Israel in the standings – it recycles about 12% of its water. I also wrote in one of my first posts about how Israelis wash their dishes – soap up a sponge, wash each dish with the faucet off, then quickly and efficiently rinse each dish under the faucet, all the while using as little water as possible. The system is rather efficient and should be adapted worldwide. In a similar vain, it is important to turn off the faucet while brushing teeth, which all too many people in the US don’t do. I think the textbook move is to use a cup of water, rinse your mouth out and use the remaining water to wash the brush.
Israel is dependent on the winter rains for its water supply. The Kineret, the fresh water lake in the North, water levels and depth-which are used as indicators of Israel’s water supply are at record lows. Every year, Jews around the world alter their prayers seasonally to pray for rain. The timing of our prayers are based around the rain season, as it was determined inappropriate to pray for rain during the summer months, at a time when we know it will not rain in Israel. We made the switch a few months back and our prayers went largely unanswered for several months. The rain season in Israel in a good year starts in October.
A bit over a month and a half ago, a public day of fast was declared – a day when people were encouraged to pray for rain in the hopes that our heightened prayers would be answered. The idea may sound crazy to some, it did at first to me as well. However, after giving it some thought, I think there can be meaning to a fast to even those who do not believe our prayers or fasting efforts are heard by G-d. I should mention that the fast was generally observed by the orthodox portion of the population, but I do not imagine that was completely the case.
I think that in addition to strengthening our prayers for rain, a communal fast can have a strong unifying impact on a society. The idea of fasting for a cause is not exclusively a religious notion. Gandhi’s hunger strike for instance was to raise awareness and support. In a similar vain, the communal fast for rain can have a unifying effect. It reminds everyone that we are in this together and in addition to praying or hoping for rain– depending on your religious beliefs – it is important to remember and show each other that we need to conserve for ourselves and each other. No mater any Israelis religious or political beliefs, everyone is serious about water preservation and understand the importance of rain. I think the fast strengthens that unification and can function as an impetus for unifying Israel as a nation on other fronts as well.
I missed the first rain fast – I didn't hear about it until after the fast had past. Two weeks ago, a second fast was called–it still had not rained. I fasted, it was a short fast that ended at 5:30. At first I did not feel all of the unification that I had hoped to feel. two of the five people in carpool that morning were not fasting – one forgot and one had a nephews bris – circumcision (which involves a festive meal that trumped the fast). At the office, there was little talk of the fast and the few people I spoke to about it were not partaking (by not partaking). It was not until Mincha – afternoon services – that I got a sense that I was not the only one who had skipped breakfast and lunch that day. In the service they recited the special prayer we add on communal fast days. Oddly enough, although I knew that the fast was not so widely observed, I could not help but feel like I was somehow doing my part – I put in as much effort as one could put in to bring about rain.
In the beginning of last week, I heard a new water saving measure that is apparently nearly as widely followed as washing the dishes with a sponge and a rinse – many Israelis shower in the same fashion. This was hard for me to stomach – the move goes like this: Once you have been in the shower for a little bit and are totally drenched, turn off the water, soap yourself up with the water off and then turn the shower back on to rinse off. When I heard the idea, I was not thrilled, but was more than willing to do my part in preserving water. I can say one thing for certain about the Israeli shower method – it increases efficiency big time – when you are soaping up without water, you get cold and a shower just does not feel the same. When you turn the water back on, it is all business – after all, if you did not care you would not have turned it off in the first place. I now take very fast showers, especially considering the surface area I need to cover (I’m 6’5”).
As the end of last week, the water situation got even more serious. A fire started in the north. Experts believe the fire started from a discarded hookah coal that sparked some brush and spread to the point that 15,000 people needed to be evacuated from their homes. Tragically, 41 people died in fire – 40 of which were police cadets on their way to evacuate a prison from the fire that was spreading. The winds changed and the bus they were traveling on was engulfed in flames. Israel was caught off guard and unable to control the fire. International help was requested and received from all over - Europe, America and the Middle East including Greece, Bulgaria, America, Egypt, and despite very tense political relations Turkey (to name a few). It took over four days to contain and stop the fire. One of the reasons the fire spread so quickly is that everything was so dry – since there had been no rain.
Thankfully, last Monday, our prayers were answered – the same day the fire fighters up north extinguished the fire, Israel was blesses with its first real rain of the year. Everywhere I went – the talk of the town was the weather – and not just to cut through awkward silences. The popular line is – oh man it is raining – I wish it wasn't right now or right here. One thing is for sure, no one straight up complains about the rain here.
Since arriving in Israel, I have really learned to appreciate what I used to consider the little things like a water supply and even some annoyances – like rain.
Update: Since the rain storm we haven’t seen much precipitation action. We are still hoping for more and conserving water as much as possible. The rain situation has got me thinking – kids, like cats, generally hate to shower and bathe. I wonder if they use the water preservation argument here as a rationale to get parents to let them go coast to coast