I was pulled out of my sleep by a five note snippet of an unfamiliar tune, repeated over and over. My first thought was, Why did I change my alarm sound? As I picked my phone up from the windowsill, I realized the notes were coming, not from my phone, but from the succah just below the open bedroom window. Although I not changed my alarm sound, I would be awakened by this musical snippet for the rest of the Succot holiday.
That’s what the holiday is like in Jerusalem. With so many succot built in almost every conceivable spot, you’re never out of earshot of one. And since the holiday is at the end of summer, before the winter rains start, many people sleep in their temporary huts. Thus, the alarm clock ringing outside my window at 6:15 AM.
Okay, it does rain here during succot almost every year. Usually the rain is a light drizzle, lasting only a few minutes to an hour. Depending on what time it falls, it may chase people into the house for their meal or cancel plans to sleep outside. But it is rarely the cold drenching October rain familiar to North Americans, nor is it the significant heavy rain of Israeli winter.
This year it was different. Late Monday morning the skies opened up and it poured. It rained almost everywhere in the country. On Facebook, people posted photos and videos of the rain in their succot. Rain was even reported falling near Jericho, which normally receives about 4 inches of rain a year. Compare that with Jerusalem’s 22 inches, or to Philadelphia’s 47 inches.
Several roads flooded in the north of the country. As usual for the first rain, electric outages were reported from several localities. You would think that the electric company in high tech Israel would know by now that heavy rain falls every year. Even the Bible mentions yoreh—the heavy fall rain. You would think they would take preventive measures to protect against such outages.
A flash flood near the Dead Sea temporarily stranded 150 hikers. Since it takes only about an inch of rain in Jerusalem to cause flash floods near the Dead Sea, that story isn’t unusual. That it happened during succot, before the “official” start of winter’s rains made it newsworthy.
Most people’s succot suffered some damage. The rain washed all the dirt off the s’chach, the bamboo or palm leaves used as roofing, leaving a coat of mud on chairs and tables. Paper decorations were ruined, and some succot were even moved or knocked down by the wind.
Our succah survived intact. However, even though it was dry by dinner time, we didn’t eat in it Monday night. A nearby ant nest was flooded, which might not have been a problem if it was normal sized. But this one, apparently, was no ordinary anthill; I suspect it was the capital city of the ant kingdom of Jerusalem. When we inspected our succah in the afternoon, large black ants, some with translucent white wings, were swarming out of hundreds of small holes in the ground. Pouring an ant-killing mixture of soap and red pepper solution down the main entrance to the nest didn’t affect the population in the succah, nor did pouring it into the holes on one side of the table. There were just too many exits from the city, and too many ants.
In Wilkes Barre we used to worry about the local skunks visiting our succah uninvited. One annoyed skunk could ruin the succah for the season. The local wildlife in Jerusalem is primarily feral cats. Although they like to explore succot looking for treats, they generally run away when people approach. But the six legged creatures are not shy, and when they want to take over a space they can do so.
Perhaps by next year, one of the families that builds their succah in the parking lot will move away. Then we’ll be able to use their space. I don’t look forward to another ant-infested holiday.
On Thursday, the last day of the holiday season, we prayed for rain. That prayer officially initiates the winter season. After the Prayer for Rain on Shemini Atzeret/ Simchat Torah, rain can fall at any time. Most years, however, the yoreh holds off until the beginning of November.
But whenever it falls, rain is welcome—as long as it doesn’t knock out your power.