November 29, 2002 Update

Letters from Israel

Friday, November 29, 2002

Dear family and friends,

The wind wouldn't let me sleep last night. It hammered on the shutters as though trying to break into the apartment. From upstairs came the sound of a herd of animals clattering around on the upstairs balcony - the wind driving around the garden furniture. Bits of leaves were sucked between the shutter and the window, swirling around in the gap like balls in a lottery machine.

I'd spent the evening working on my balcony, tending to my plants. Already the strong winds had started, tousling the large tree in my neighbours' garden below, blowing my gardening stool across the porch. The dust tickled my throat, sending me indoors in a spasm of coughing.

Finally, autumn weather in November, just as we are supposed to be on the cusp of winter. The rains have been late this year. We've had a few thunderstorms so far, some brief downpours, but not the blessed bounty we desperately need. This was a teasing gale, though, dry, choking and slightly warm. It blew along bits of dry earth and dust, with not a drop of rain in sight.

By about 2:45am I realized that sleep was impossible, and, bundling up in my warmest dressing gown, I went out to see what the violent wind had wrought on my balcony.

My favourite Arabian jasmine had been pulled to one side, half uprooted, while many of the tender seedlings were doubled over, squashed by the tempest. Assorted plant debris churned around the floor, along with a child's ball and an empty flower pot.

A few mocking drops of drizzle spattered down for an instant, leaving a pattern of tears on the balcony floor, nothing more.

The terrible gusts were tormenting the neighbours' tree, tossing it this way and that, ripping off clumps of its elegant leaves and pretty pink seed pods, along with strips of the jasmine vine which sprawls over the tree. The windward side was stripped bare and skeletal, like a face scarred on one side, with the sheltered side still glorious in its foliage and seed pods, the jasmine daintily weaving in and out among them. I wondered what had happened to the flock of house sparrows which usually roost there for the night.

Good thing my neighbour harvested his lemons two weeks ago. This storm would have decimated his crop.

The wind raged on. A cluster of marigold heads from a distant garden flew past me, followed by some flimsy branches.

I went back to bed but sleep wouldn't come. A song kept repeating in my head, the wind beating at the building, the wind chimes clanging wildly in panic. In my mind the tumult outside merged with the violence of the war, the destruction striking daily at random.

I found myself humming a song from the October 1973 Yom Kippur War:

Each year in the fall, Giora,
The crazed wind in my garden
Decapitates the best of my lilies.

Each year
Each year in the fall, Giora,
I cast my eyes up to the mountains.
From where will my salvation come?

Each year
Each year in the fall
Each year in the fall

Giora fell fighting a very different war, a war in which mighty armies faced each other in the vastness of the Sinai Peninsula, a war of soldier against soldier. Troops went off to the front line, and however small the country's borders were, the battlefield and the home were separate places. Now the distinction between the front and home seems a quaint luxury.

It felt as if the turbulence had grown out of the day's events, the frantic pace of tragedies and near tragedies bombarding us one after the other, battering the tender shoots along with the mature trees. Suddenly I felt sick. So many people had been cut down that day, and here I was worrying about the plants and sparrows.

And then it came. A clap of thunder, real thunder, not just the thrashing of the wind. A new sound arose from the tumult, a reassuring steady pounding of water on concrete and soil.

Finally a blessing from within the storm.

Shabbat shalom and Hannukah sameah,


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Copyright 2002 by Leiah Elbaum.