Water-short Farmers Seek Divine Irrigation

As farmers pray at Mt. Meron tomb for rain, staff at Hermon ski resort are praying for snow.

Groups of worshippers encircling the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai on Mount Meron Sunday while clutching the Four Species may have led visitors to check their calendars to make sure Sukkot had passed.

The farmers of the Upper Galilee, led by the rabbi of Merom Hagalil Regional Council, seem to think the ritual will raise their sagging fortunes, the result of the warm, dry winter they have been experiencing. The farmers are not satisfied with weather reports promising the long-awaited arrival of rainy, wintry days. The arid winter, the severe shortages in water supplies and the struggles of the farmers led Rabbi Eliyahu Biton to hold a special prayer for rainfall composed in the 16th century by religious scholar Yosef Karo and published in his book Maggid Mesharim.

"The farmers' sighs are growing louder and louder," said Biton. "The lack of rainfall and the arid winter have caused farmers serious damage, and their income has dropped dramatically."

Biton said Karo's book, in which the author describes his communication with an angel sent by God, tells of a story in which Karo arrived with his students to Meron during the Sukkot holiday, and that after encircling the Roman-era rabbi's tomb with the Four Species in hand, torrential rains followed.

Karo, born in Portugal, lived in what are now Bulgaria and Greece before spending the latter half of his life in Safed.

Moshe, a farmer at Moshav Dalton near Safed who arrived for the prayer session said, "At the orchards right now we're surviving with the little rain that has fallen, but we're worried about the coming summer. There will be a sharp cut in water quotas and we fear next year will be even more difficult and the price of water will rise sharply.

"If the drought continues there is a real chance that next year will be even tougher for farmers. This is our livelihood and the way of life we have chosen," he said. "If, for example, we reduce the amount of water used to water apple trees, the fruit will be small, and who wants to buy ugly produce? Our income has already been difficult to come by in recent years. We're hoping to get some help through this prayer."

Another group with their eyes fixed on the clouds is the management and staff of Mount Hermon Ski Resort in the Golan Heights, who are hoping tomorrow will bring the first snows of the season. The resort has already finished its seasonal preparations and next to the usual ski trails a snowboard park has been added. The park is an enclosed 4-trail, 500-meter long compound for experienced snowboarders only.