Part I: Tsunami
When the previews ended and the lights went off, it was precisely 10am. Usually the Saturday morning matinees are crowded, but since it was raining hard outside, the first of many stormy days to come, I imagined most people just opted to stay home. My serial killer movie friend Ruty and I settled into our seats, always eager to take a journey together.
The opening scene of “The Impossible” was of a family of five on the plane going from their temporary home in Japan to vacation in Indonesia, the day before Christmas, eight years ago. They spoke with British accents, but we never learned their country of origin. After landing, they were driven to a Conde Nast Traveler worthy resort whose beaches were pristine with palm trees dotting its shores. The cinematography was stunning, and we were engrossed in the story from the start.
We watched the family celebrate Christmas Eve and open up presents together the next morning. We understood their intense bond. And then the pace changed as an immense, crushing wave rocked them and all the other guests and islanders around them. I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we were under water, breathless, fists clenched, pulses racing, tearing up, as each minute passed. I could sense Ruty’s tension next to me and was deeply aware of my own. My body seized up with each scene as the family members struggled with the elements, with loss, with injury, pain and fear.
At the end of the movie, Ruty and I exhaled an audible sigh. We wiped our eyes and turned toward one another, each admitting to feeling nauseous and weak. At first, all we could say were words like “wow” and “oh my god”. The movie was so well done and real it felt as if we had been dragged through the destruction too. We questioned a few things, particularly the ending, but agreed it had been a good choice and an important film to see.
Next time, we agreed, we’re seeing a comedy.
Part II: Rain
On Sunday morning we woke up to more rain, which had been steadily falling since Shabbat and was predicted to continue all week long. Philippe and I took turns driving the girls to and from school, depending on the rain. It took a friend of mine 60 minutes to drive to the nearest train station in Herziliya, which is usually a 12- minute ride, only to discover the station was closed due to floods. We checked The Times of Israel and saw a video of the Azrieli Mall in Modiin, whose first floor was being salvaged after rainwater flooded it.
Monday brought increased and heavier rain, off and on hail and flickering electricity. Throughout the day, trees and signs toppled and streets flooded. That night, one of my yoga students arrived and buzzed our front gate just as a huge downpour hit. She ducked into our garage for safety and arrived drenched. Thunder and lightning raged all night long, waking each of us up at different hours.
Tuesday morning neither one of us wanted to get out of bed. It was so cold and grey and wet outside that if it hadn’t been for the girls and school (not to mention teaching yoga), lounging in our flannel sheets for a few extra hours sounded ideal. Every day, Daniella would tell us how much she loved snuggling up in warm fleeces and heavy sweatshirts, just like in New York. Philippe was supposed to go to work in south Tel Aviv but stayed home instead to avoid the roads especially since the major highway near Tel Aviv, the Ayalon, was closed due to flooding. Jerusalem was preparing for snow and the one and only ski area up north on Mt. Hermon was packed with powder.
Wednesday brought more of the same—on and off power outages, angry hail, ankle deep water on city streets. In this hot, desert land, they are ill prepared for an abundance of rain. Schools were closed in Jerusalem and up north in the Golan Heights due to snow, and my brother emailed pictures of my nieces and nephews decked out in gloves, hats and scarves, reminiscent of our kids playing during New York’s snow days. Once again, the Ayalon Highway around Tel Aviv closed to commuters. Temperatures dropped and whether indoors or out, I felt chilled. During a moment of calm skies, I ducked out to attend a pre-election political party panel event in English, certain I would be the only one. Much to my surprise, there were at least 100 people, eager to learn and perhaps feel confident at the polls in two weeks. When I got home, I had an email from my mom, who asked me how we were faring and told me my cousins in the northern city of Hadera said the marines had to come and rescue people who were caught in floods.
When we opened our eyes on Thursday the skies were dry albeit grey and cloudy. All week long during yoga, I alternated playing Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me and Yael Naim’s albums since their music is so befitting for the weather. Throughout the day, it drizzled but not enough to disturb everyday lives. Weather forecasts announced that the storm was supposed to taper off by the weekend.
By Friday, the skies were clearing even if the sun had not yet poked through the clouds. Accuweather’s forecast for the upcoming week were sunny days with temperatures in the high 60s, more typical of Israeli winters.
For years, the focal point of rain-related news has been on the Kinneret, Israel’s major reservoir of fresh water, which has been drying up. Endless winters of below-average rainfall have led the water level to dip to a point below which water cannot be pumped without causing severe damage to the entire water supply. Water rationing has been put into effect and people have been persuaded to conserve water any way they can. On any given rainy day in this country, people will acknowledge how important the rain is as if they’ve been brainwashed to believe any and all precipitation is good. By the middle of last week, everyone I spoke with was sufficiently sick of the deluge and ready to return to normalcy.
According to today’s Ha’aretz newspaper, the Kinneret rose 25 centimeters during last week’s storm, the highest it’s been in 20 years. It’s cause for celebration.
Part III: Pool
When Dr. Carmel, the orthopedist surgeon who saved my wrist, ordered me to swim and circle it in the water, I heeded his advice. Ever since, every week, at least once, I head to the Raanana city pool, rain or shine.
In the beginning, I simply swam, mostly breast stroke, slowly venturing onto my back. Until one Monday morning a few weeks ago, when I was swimming laps and noticed a couple of dozen people, mostly women, flapping their arms wildly out to the sides and lifting and opening up their legs performing awkward aqua-abdominal crunches. Curious, I stopped at the end of my lap to try. A man approached my lane and pointed to the sign that read: for laps only. “At socha?” he asked if I was going to swim. I stopped crunching and took off across the length of the pool.
The following Monday, I decided to try the 9:15 exercise class. But when I jumped in the pool and looked closely, I saw that the average age hovered around 67. While I recognize that swimming is one of the best forms of exercise we can do for ourselves as we age, I also decided I wasn’t ready to give up laps and hang with the retirees. And so I took off across the length of the pool in the lane next to the group. Just as I reached the edge, the lifeguard called out to me, “Giveret, ani sogeret etze ki hakvutsa gdola mediy ve hem screechim et hamakom. Lechi le kvutsah!” He was closing my lane to make room for the class, which was extra big and needed space, ordering me to join them.
I have always believed in signs. Best therapy for my broken wrist was swimming, something I had wanted to do for years but never had the gumption, and then when my lane closed… all I needed to do was follow the signs.
And so I did. The teacher, a young Israeli in her late 20s or early 30s, stood on a flat low table outside the pool’s edge to demonstrate the movements. She spotted me immediately and smiled. I wasn’t hard to miss with my brown swimsuit and pink-and-white tie-dye swim cap. She encouraged me with her words and her movements, gesturing to lift my bent knees or kick my legs higher. Even with the simple swishing of my arms underwater from side to side, I felt the resistance. We moved our wrists in all directions and circled our shoulders. Throughout the 45 minutes, we moved non-stop to Donna Summers and Carly Simon and I could hear my exhale out through my mouth. Every part of my body was working against the water with the yogic-, dance-like, aerobic exercise.
The week after, we worked with Styrofoam weights that were effortless until they were underwater. The following week we used noodles, swishing them in front and behind us, from side to side and under our armpits to lift our legs. I no longer cared that I was the youngest in the mix. Being in the water felt so good, and the movements were interesting and challenging. Each week, I try to swim laps after class and before the Jacuzzi, where I treat myself to a few rounds of jet cycles. I’ve also befriended an American woman who swims laps and am hoping she’ll join the class with me to help lower the average age. While I never feel sore the next day, I have noticed that I sleep deeply on Monday nights.
Last Monday, during the torrential rain, I forced myself to go to class and wasn’t surprised to see only a handful of people in the pool. While in the water, I looked outside the glass windows and watched the skies blacken and listened to the pelting rain clang against them. I thought about the movie “The Impossible”, re-playing the tsunami scene in my head, and momentarily shivered in the water. I thought about Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy as well as all the other storms and tsunamis that have happened in between. I recalled the extreme spring and summer storms we experienced in White Plains. Mostly, I thought about the people who have witnessed these incredible acts of Mother Nature and have survived.
Our week of rain was insignificant in comparison. We all know it and appreciate it.
To a mild winter all the world wide.