The Land of Israel has been blessed with an unbelievable amount of rain over the past two weeks – so much rain, in fact, that the amount of rain recorded in the north has broken the country’s 50-year record, according to the Israel Meteorological Service (IMS).
At Lake Kinneret, (Sea of Galilee), the water level rose by 10 inches (26 centimeters) since the start of the downpour. It stood at 211.1 meters (693 feet) below sea level, just seven feet (2.07 meters) from the top red line, the point at which the lake is at full capacity.
The rainfall accumulation has already surpassed the average for the winter season in most parts of the western Galilee, and the water level in Lake Kinneret is inching its way back up from the lower red line, where it’s been sitting for more than a decade of drought. Sometimes, in fact, it’s even dipped below.
An average of 13.7 to 15.7 inches (350 and 400 mm) of rain accumulation was recorded at meteorological stations in northern Israel since December 25, with some areas in the western and upper Galilee seeing more than 17.7 inches (450 mm) of rainfall.
That amount of rain has been seen only twice before since the weather service began measuring rain 80 years ago – in December 1951 and in January 1969.
Nearly four inches of rain (more than 100 mm) of rain fell in northern Israel on Wednesday and Thursday.
In the south, a 76-year record was also broken: 122 mm (five inches) of rain fell, and more rain is still expected through the weekend.
Just since the start of January 2020, the rainfall accumulation in the north has surpassed the month’s average in the region by 140 to 180 percent over the same period last year.
The deluge caused a massive amount of flooding throughout the northern and central sections of the country especially, with some Israelis becoming particularly creative in their coping methods.
Videos made the rounds on the internet of Israelis in speedboats, and on water skis, and even on surfboards, riding the waves – yes, waves – zooming around the streets of their communities.
In central Israel, a couple with a small toddler escaped their home in Rosh Ha’Ayin by using a kayak.
In southern Israel, the worst of the flooding was seen mostly around the coastal areas and in the western Negev. Israel’s Channel 13 News viewers were given a first-hand look at what life could be like when muddy water invades a community and forces a family out of their home. Numerous families were forced to flee their homes in Moshav Giv’ati. In Moshav Emunim, high school students were evacuated by first responders on inflatable boats and tractors.
Across the country, intercity highways were blocked off as one by one, flood water turned roads into canals. Several babies were delivered at home by first responders because women were unable to leave their homes due to the high water levels. Magen David Adom emergency teams were also summoned to numerous locations to help extract vehicles that were trapped in water, and to help rescue people in flooded homes.
But the brunt of the challenge was by far felt in the north.
Nahariya Mayor Ronen Marley and Israel Police issued a directive on Wednesday telling residents to stay in their homes for safety’s sake. The mayor added, “Don’t even think of going outside to attempt any adventures.” It was an admonition one might question, until encountering the videos of those with the speedboats, surf boards and water skis.
The flooding has caused some NIS 300 million ($86.5 million) in damage to the infrastructure of the city, according to Marley.
Israeli Arabs from the villages around Nahariya came out on Thursday with their privately-owned, expensive construction equipment and spent the day in the cold rain helping Jews who became stuck and stranded in the streets because they either had not heard the directive, chose to ignore it, or drove in from outside the community.
Nahariya resident Moti Ben Shabbat, 38, paid with his life on Wednesday when he jumped into a flooded car to rescue a mother and baby; he succeeded in rescuing them both, but was then washed away by a strong floodwater current and drowned.
Ben Shabbat became a national hero with his act of self-sacrifice; nearly a thousand people came out on Thursday to accompany him to his final resting place. President Reuven Rivlin spoke with the city’s mayor about Ben Shabbat, asking Marley to convey his condolences to his family. “From time to time, we find heroes glowing in the sky,” he said. “The act he did to save others was extraordinary courage, real heroism he paid for with his life.”
To the family, he wrote in a separate letter, “Moti risked his live to save a family whose car was stuck in the rising tides. In those seconds, when action comes before thought, a person’s true character is seen. Moti did not think twice and jumped into the current in hope of saving a family he did not know and were in danger of being trapped under the water.
“His bravery, his refusal to be a bystander, his courage, touched all our hearts and are examples of humanity and mutual responsibility of the highest order. Please, on behalf of the people of Israel, accept my sincere condolences at this difficult time. May the soul of Moti, our hero, be bound in the bond of life. There are heroes in Israel!”