When you live in Israel, you know you’re surrounded by news. Sometimes, especially when your enemies want to kill you, you’re right there in the news. You hear air raid sirens. You hear gunfire. You hear low-flying aircraft (where we live, the only low-flying aircraft will be military or police. Actually, that's not true. Where we live, you'll also see low-flying UN planes spying on us, counting houses, to see if we've built anything since their last over-flight. The UN's like that. They're vigilant. They're obsessed. They want to catch Israelis building houses, add-on bathrooms and schools for children. The UN knows the villains they must deal with: for the UN, there's nothing more dangerous than Jews building stuff. We know that to be true because, when Jews have land, they build on it. When Arabs have land, they burn tires on it. At least, that's what they do here).
Yes, the news is all around us. Sometimes, when you get busy, you get behind the news. You have to catch up, if only to see why your local highway had been shut down that afternoon or your city’s main gate closed earlier in the day. That happens mostly because of terror attacks of one kind or another.
We attend to the news to see what happened, to see if any of our neighbours were affected.
Sometimes, we don't have to wait for the news to find out what's happened. Sometimes, we’re ahead of the news.
Take this morning, for example. Arutz Sheva reported at 8:42 am local time that Israel was being blanketed by a sand-storm. The Jerusalem Post reported it at 9:10 local time. The Times of Israel reported it at 10:44.
But I knew about the storm before 6:00 am. I found out about it the moment I woke up and looked out my window.
Does that mean I was ahead of the news?
Certainly does. I can even tell you this was a bad storm—much worse, in my estimation, than any previous sand storm I’d seen in the five+ years I’ve been here.
For example, in the previous (worst) storm, while vision beyond 300 yards was nothing more than a white cloud, my immediate surroundings, perhaps a circle of fifty-seventy yards, seemed clear enough. Also, the air felt ‘normal’. I could sniff sand or sense it in the air only after a while.
This morning, however, was different. First, while I could see from my front porch the house across the street and the trees in its back yard, the ‘white cloud’ which represented the storm wasn’t 200-250 yards beyond those trees. It began at those trees.
The second difference was the air itself. It wasn’t clear. It was beige.
Third, the air wasn’t ‘clean’. It felt gritty.
My son lives in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean coast. It gets an ocean breeze.
But today there were no ocean breezes. My son told me the air had (pardon the reference) an almost-urine-like look to it. The Times of Israel didn’t disagree. It simply used a more polite term. It called the color “a brownish-yellow fog” (“Israel shrouded in dense sandstorm”, September 8, 2015).
So far as the air’s gritty feel goes, the Jerusalem Post put some numbers to it: it measured the level of something called PM 10--particulate matter with a diameter up to 10 microns (Sharon Udasin, “Dust storm moves into Israel bringing high levels of air pollution”, September 8, 2015). In the Jerusalem area (I live in the desert just outside Jerusalem), the normal maximum level of PM 10s is 60 micrograms per cubic meter. This morning, that level was at 1,350 micrograms per cubic meter, with a maximum 30-minute level of 8,452 micrograms per cubic meter (ibid). Since I’m actually in the desert itself, I assume the air quality was worse than that, though I can’t say that’s a correct assumption. It just gives me an opportunity to believe that my ‘grit’ was worse than your ‘grit’, as if that’s some kind of consolation.
Here’s my own scientific observation: when you’re no longer breathing 60 micrograms per cubic meter of something, and you’re now breathing up to 8,452 micrograms of it, you notice it.
Can I count that as a scientific observation?
The air had a tan tinge to it. It reminded me of some old, faded photographs one occasionally sees. It made me feel I was standing inside an old photo, experiencing it from inside the photo, instead of being outside looking down at it.
I was scheduled to be outdoors today, walking to our shops. It’s a 25-minute walk each way.
I didn’t go. I stood outside this morning at 8 am with one of my grandsons, to wait with him for someone to pick him up to take him to his ‘gan’—his pre-school building. We stood outside for perhaps five minutes. I was glad to get back indoors. I could feel the grit getting to me.
The newspapers here have suggested that people with respiratory problems, the elderly, children or pregnant women should stay indoors. Since I like to keep my grandchildren happy—and since I firmly believe that at least one of my younger grandchildren might tell me I belong in one of those categories--I decided to stay indoors.
I closed the windows. I turned on the a/c.
Later today, will we see this sandstorm linked to some news story? In other words, has the Creator of the Universe brought this storm at precisely this moment to precisely this place for a purpose He will share with us?
Stay tuned. The day isn’t over.