Friday, January 06, 2012

Rain Man

It is raining this week in Israel, which is an unusual event. I was
outside yesterday when a light rain was falling, not enough even to
make cars turn on their wipers. A bunch of Israelis were crowded
under a store's outside awning to shelter there and to wait until the
"storm" passed. It reminded me of this earlier item I had posted
about life in Israel:

Rain Man

By Steve Plaut

This week it rained pretty hard in Israel. Not enough to really
fix the Sea of Galilee and the water deficit. The authorities say
Israel would have to have 133 days just as rainy to fill up the Sea.

But it did get me thinking, and I thought I would share my thoughts
with you about Israelis and rain. Israelis invented the disk-on-key
(memory stick), invent cures for cancer, and Israeli components were
on the rocket that landed on the moon. But Israelis simply do not
understand rain.

I suppose it is all pretty understandable. After all, rain is a
very unusual event in Israel, so Israelis have never quite figured out
how to cope with it. In the monsoons, it may rain in an hour in East
Asia more than it rains in Israel in a year.

First of all, Israelis are convinced that going out in the rain
is lethal. Humans melt in the rain. Especially children. And it
does not have to be very hard rain either. It is highly common to hear
Israelis saying things like, "I need to go to the post office but I
can't go because it is drizzling." Postmen by the way stop
delivering the mail when it rains. Katyusha rockets just make loud
noises, but Israelis are convinced that a bit of precipitation will
kill you for sure.

At the first drops of rain, Israeli streets empty out. Thunder
is so unusual that Judaism has invented a special blessing one says
when one hears it. Winters in Israel are so mild that typical daytime
temps in January and February are in the 60s and 70s (Fahrenheit).
(There is a math prof at my university who has taught for 40 years and
has yet to come to campus wearing long pants or shoes.) When the wind
blows together with rain, Israelis are convinced that the Angel of
Death is stalking the country. I once left my building on campus up
in the Carmel hills when the temperature was 50 degrees F and the wind
was blowing. While waiting for the bus, all the Israelis around me
were complaining and screaming that Israel had morphed into Siberia.
A couple of Russian Israelis from Siberia stood nearby and fell on the
floor laughing.

Because rain is so unusual, Israelis do not know how to drive in
it. If a car's wheels spin when the traffic light turns green
because the street is wet, Israelis believe that you have to gun the
gas pedal to make them spin faster until they move you out of the spot
with poor traction in which you are stuck. Israelis have no
experience with ice on roads and do not recognize the feeling of a car
skidding. So on the occasion
when they do come across a slippery road, they do not even notice the car
wheels skidding about.

Israelis also have never figured out that hats keep rain
off your face and head. Their major fear in rain seems to be that the
hat could get wet. Religious Israelis always wear hats, but they
cover their hats with plastic covers in the rain so the hat will not
get wet and so the rain flows down the plastic into their faces. For
ultra-Orthodox Israelis, defying the weather is an article of piety
and pride. That is why, when it is 112 degrees F outside in the shade
in August, the Ultra-Orthodox will show their contempt for meteorology
by wearing winter coats. It is best not to sit next to a black-coated
fellow on a bus in the summer with the windows closed.

Part of the Israeli problem with rain is manifested also in the
Israeli dread of eating ice cream in winter. Israelis are universally
and passionately convinced that if you eat ice cream in the winter,
you will get a throat infection and die a horrible death. The
infection, by the way, is caused by the calendar month, so you will
get it if you eat ice cream in January even if it is 80 degrees F
outside. I once sat on a bench in winter eating ice cream, and the
people walking by kept coming up to me to ask if I had gotten a
special inoculation against throat infections that winter. Israelis
who own dogs always make the dog wear wool sweaters when they go out
into the rain in 50 degree F evenings, so the dog will not freeze to

Bibi Netanyahu probably eats ice cream in winter, but that
is because he spent part of his youth living in the US. No other
Israeli cabinet minister has ever endangered himself and tempted fate
by eating ice cream in the winter.

For a while, Israel was unique in the world because Israeli
supermarkets were marketing something they called "winter ice cream."
No one anywhere else on earth has heard of such a thing. Winter ice
cream is slightly softer than regular ice cream, and the idea was to
convince Israelis that it was not as cold as regular ice cream (never
mind that it was stored in the same freezer), so they could eat it
without risking immediate agonizing death. But it never caught on, I
guess because Israelis preferred not to tempt the Angel of Death.

The other thing is that no Israeli in history has ever written in
his or her "personal ad" that he or she likes to go for long romantic
walks in the rain. And if you want to date an Israeli, never write
that in YOUR own "personal ad." Israelis believe that walks in the
rain will kill you. While we are at it, you should also never write
that you eat ice cream in winter.

And if Israelis do not understand rain, they have even MORE
problems understanding snow. Granted that snow is highly unusual in
this part of the world, Christmas manger scenes notwithstanding.
Jerusalem usually gets snow once or twice a year. Safed can also get
snow, as can the Golan.

Israelis do not understand snow. A snow storm instantly binds
together all the North Americans and Russian Israelis, who get
together in fraternal bliss and make fun of the sabras, while doubling
over in laughter. First of all, Israelis always carry umbrellas in
the snow, so the flakes will not damage their hats and their hair.
Second, they usually tie large plastic garbage bags around their shoes
so that the snow will not touch the leather or plastic and destroy it.
And it goes without saying that swallowing a snow flake will kill you
on the spot

Israelis do not understand rain and snow. But they also do not
understand elevators. Every single Israeli believes that if you are
standing on the ground floor and want to go up to the tenth floor,
then you need to press the DOWN button so that the elevator will know
that it should come DOWN to get you and take you up. Israelis are
more convinced that this is how elevators work than they are that the
sun will rise tomorrow. I tried a few times to explain to Israelis
who had pushed the down button in order to go up that they had pressed
the wrong one. Hearing my heavy American accent, they would jab one
another in the ribs with their elbows and make comments about how
simpleminded and naive those Americans are.

In some cases, pushing the wrong elevator button compulsively has
its advantages. I am convinced that many a plot by terrorists to
assassinate Israelis in large buildings has been foiled because the
Israelis escaped the gunmen by pressing the wrong elevator button.
You may recall that there was one successful assassination by
terrorists of an Israeli cabinet minister, Rehavam "Ghandi" Zeevi, in
a Jerusalem hotel. I have investigated the incident and, alas, the
poor man was killed because he accidentally pressed the correct
elevator button.


Christmas was a few days ago, which in Israel is pretty much just
an ordinary work day. But it did bring back to my mind some things
from my childhood in Philadelphia. When I was nine years old, the
week before Christmas I was sitting in the barber chair in the
neighborhood, getting my bi-weekly crew cut, when in came a guy
dressed as Santa Claus. He started handing out lollipops to all the
kids sitting in the row of barber chairs having their hair cut. When
he got to me, I was a little shy and hesitant. I said to "Santa,"
listen, I am not sure if it ok for me to take a Christmas lollipop
from you because I am Jewish. The Santa guy came up to me close and
winked and said, "That's ok, so am I!!"

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