Rain, by Gershon Ben-Avraham
Three keys are kept in God’s hands and never delivered to an angel:
one of them is the key to rain.
― Talmud (Ta’anit)
There are times in Beersheba, during Israel’s rainy season, when the air takes on an ethereal quality. This phenomenon occurs most often during periods of twilight, at dawn or dusk. Those fortunate enough to experience it feel as if they have been magically transported to a rocky northern seacoast, or set down unexpectedly in the middle of a mysterious mountain forest. After such an episode, they may find themselves recalling the biblical story of Abraham and, depending upon their personal philosophy, either admiring his great wisdom in choosing to dwell in Beersheba, or wondering at the remarkable providence of God in getting him there. The story told here took place in Beersheba during one of its rainy seasons. The time of its occurrence is not that of the Patriarchs but a more recent past.
In the afternoon, Josef took a break from his work. He stood up, placed his hands on his hips, rose on his toes, arched his back, and stretched. His dog, lying on a mat next to Josef’s desk, taking its cue from Josef, also rose, placed its front paws together, assumed a bowing position, and yawned.
“Ready for your walk?”
The dog wagged its tail. Josef stepped to the window of his study and looked outside.
“Glorious day!” he said.
He put on a jacket and a tan cotton cap. He slung a small canvas bag over his shoulder. He and the dog walked down three flights of stairs, exited the front of the apartment building, crossed Johanna Jabotinsky Boulevard, made a left on Hativa Shmone Street, and entered Tsiporen Garden. They walked past several outdoor exercise machines located near the Garden’s entrance. Josef noticed a young woman, a beige sweater tied loosely around her waist, lethargically pedaling a stationary bike. Beside her, a suntanned older man, with a full head of silver hair, wearing a blue jumpsuit and bright orange gym shoes, performed seated military presses on one of the weight machines.
Tsiporen Garden is a small, well-designed park. Red brick paths wander through islands of trees, hedges and, in season, bountiful flower beds. There is a playground where parents bring their children after school. Wooden benches invite strollers to rest in the shade of acacia trees at bends in the park’s paths. It was early winter, Josef’s favorite time of year. Beersheba’s heat was temporarily banished. From time to time, dark clouds would fill the sky, the wind would increase, and rain would freshen everything; today, however, the sky was clear. The air was fresh and crisp and filled with the sweet scent of flowers. The golden-hued afternoon light in the Garden was inviting.
Josef and the dog walked to a spot near the center of the Garden. It was here that Josef would ordinarily stop to give the dog a brushing. As they approached their usual bench, Josef noticed a woman sitting on it, reading. When the dog saw her, it started barking.
“Quiet!” Josef said. “No one wants to hear that.”
The woman, marking the place in her book with a finger, looked up.
“Do I have your dog’s seat?” she asked.
“No. You have mine, but no need to move.”
“There is plenty of room,” the woman said, sliding to one end of the bench. “Please. Sit.”
Josef sat down. The dog, not used to sharing its space with a stranger, resumed barking.
“I’m sorry,” Josef said.
“No need to apologize.”
The woman placed her book on the bench. Leaning forward, she held one of her hands out to the dog, who sniffed it suspiciously, then moved cautiously toward her. Josef glanced at the book lying on the bench, the Book of Psalms. The woman saw him looking at her book.
“I hope you don’t mind my asking,” she said, “but are you religious?”
“I don’t mind. No. I’m not religious. My grandparents were; my parents not so much. Me? Well, I struggle with it.”
“Me too. May I ask you a question?”
“Sure, as long as you don’t mind not getting a good answer.”
The woman laughed.
“Fair enough. I have a fifteen-year-old son named Itai. He plays soccer. Recently, his team won the Southern District Regional Championship and qualified to represent the South in the national championship game in Tel Aviv.”
“Mazel Tov! You must be proud.”
“I am. My husband is too. He works with Itai a lot on his playing.”
“It’s good they have a common interest like that.”
“It is, but there’s a problem. My father is a pious man. He’s never supported Itai’s playing sports. He thinks it’s a waste of time, that it would be better for Itai to use the time to study. When he heard that the championship game is to be held in a stadium in Tel Aviv on the third night of Hanukkah, he got upset.”
Josef didn’t say anything.
“He and my husband Uri argued about it. My father says that stadiums are a pagan invention and that for Itai to play in one of them, especially during Hanukkah, is shameful. He told Uri he would no longer be welcome in his home if he allows Itai to play in the game. Uri told him he needn’t worry, that he didn’t plan to come to his house again. Then he told my father not to come to our home anymore either. Itai was there; he heard everything. I don’t know what to do. Do you think my father’s right?”
“I don’t know. It’s not a simple question. Maybe they just need some time to cool off. I’m sorry. I wish I had a better answer for you.”
“It’s all right.”
“I warned you that you might not get a good answer.”
The woman laughed. “You did,” she said. She rose, thanked Josef again, and started to walk away.
“Miss,” he called, “don’t forget your book.”
“Ah! Thank you.”
She took the book from Josef, looked at it.
“I know what I’ll do,” she said.
“Yes. I’m going to pray for rain.”
The third night of Hanukkah, the most abundant rainfall on record fell on Tel Aviv. League officials postponed the National Secondary School Soccer Championship game a week. Many people described the rain as an unusual meteorological event, perhaps the product of climate change due to global warming. Others called it a miracle.
Gershon Ben-Avraham lives in Be’er Sheva, Israel. He holds an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University, Philadelphia. His fiction has appeared in both online and print literary journals, including the Big Muddy, Broad River Review, Crack the Spine, Gravel, and Jewish fiction.net. His short story “Yoineh Bodek” appeared in Issue No. 96 of the journal Image: Art, Faith, Mystery.