The best barometer I have for those changing weather patterns that keep making the news, is following the changes in my outside-Tel-Aviv garden. Spring started in the third week of February when the first green buds began to appear on my pomegranate trees. By the beginning of March the bear wither branches were completely covered with green foilage. The bulbul family, regular residents of my garden, began nesting in the second half of February, two-weeks earlier than their usual custom. My red and white impatiens did not wait until summer, and were also in full bloom by mid-February. Strangest of all were the water lilies, plants that hate the winter and will not flower when its cold. By the beginning of March they were producing a myriad of flowers – to the utter surprise of the residents of my small fish pond.
In the last few years it is clear that weather patterns in Israel, as in the world, are changing. Winters are shorter, with shorter periods of rain. The four to five-day rain bouts of my youth, are now usually only one to three days of rain. By the time Passover comes around we have already gone through two to three periods of extremely hot days, with wind blown dust from the desert ruining the traditional Passover spring cleaning.
Israel is on the desert fringe, surrounded by deserts. To the east the Great Syrian Desert runs from the eastern edge of the Golan all the way to the Arabian Sea on the coast of Iraq. To the south the Sinai, an extreme desert in itself, extends into Egypt on the fringe of the Sahara. In the south west the great, desolate Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula is just a few hours ride away.
Being on the desert fringe means that small changes in weather patterns have a dramatic effect on animal and human life. The rise and fall of civilizations along the desert fringe can be attributed to political, economic and social forces – but changing weather patterns cannot be ignored as part of these processes. The fall of the grand Canaanite cities, the end of the Nabatean civilization in the Negev, the decline of the Byzantine Empire, the end of the flourishing Early Muslim farms along the Arava and Jordan Valleys – were not only victims of political circumstances but also, and maybe mainly, the result of changes in weather patterns.
As we gather around the Passover table this coming week, we will read how Jacob and the people of Israel left Canaan for Egypt due to a severe drought. On their return, a few generations later, they returned to a land flourishing with milk and honey, with grapevines the size of human beings. A land blessed with rain in season, and crops that ripened exactly on time. If that is not a description of a changing weather cycle then I don’t know what is.