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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

To every fruit, there is a season (with helpful seasonal Hebrew vocabulary!)


In Canada, there are seasons. Lots and lots of them. Well, four, but they’re all exciting and distinctly different. You’re probably familiar with them: winter, spring, summer, and fall.

Israel doesn’t have seasons, as such, a fact which has been driven home by this long, warm fall. And been hammered into our skulls with a recent two-week November heatwave חמסין / chamseen (hot wind from the eastern deserts) that’s left us parched and sweating, and left my plants wilting at a time of year when they’re usually starting to soak up the first downpours of the year.

(Interestingly, as this article points out, most Israelis probably call the chamseen by that name because it’s hot, which is חם / cham in Hebrew, in fact it comes from the Arabic word for fifty – meaning fifty days a year of icky sandy hot and dry conditions.)

Spring and fall are often called עונות המעבר / onot hama’avar, the transitional season. Meaning they’re neither here nor there – just seasons that get you from one place to another. (When you sit on the aisle in a movie theatre or airplane, you’re also sitting on the מעבר / ma’avar – exactly the same word.)

The term onot hama’avar usually crops up when we’re talking about health, and other problems, that come up during spring, and especially fall. Colds, allergies, migraines, skin problems – most Israelis are suffering from some combination of all these at the moment, compounded by the current hot, dry wind which has meant I can’t smile or my lips will crack.

Normally, the fall עונת המעבר / onat hama’avar (singular) is also the time to get immunized with this year’s flu vaccine, a fact driven into my head by my ulpan teacher. But this year the vaccines were late (for various international reasons and not due to a conspiracy and/or the fact we have no government!) and we haven’t gotten ours yet.

But however you feel about the weather, that’s actually NOT what a want to talk about. Because there are even more important seasons in Israel: seasons you must be aware of, seasons people argue heatedly about on Facebook, seasons you need to prepare for before you leave the house.

I’m talking about fruit seasons, of course.

I’ve already said many times that we’re huge fans of Israeli fruit. It’s cheap and more delicious than anything I ever ate in chu”l.

But you have to stay on top of it! There’s some fruit you can get here year-round, like bananas, apples, and even grapes, though they vary with the season. But there’s lots that comes and goes – sometimes very briefly.

Two years ago NR went through a persimmon phase – we bought tons of them, daily. And then suddenly, they weren’t good anymore. And then they vanished from the shelves. Same with passion fruit. Same with mangos. Avocadoes seem to come and go because there are two different varieties, but if you get them in the wrong season, they’ll simply never ripen (even in a paper bag! Don’t comment to tell me about the paper bag trick!!).

And the “Israeli foodies” facebook group heats up every year in late spring when there are rumours that limes might be on the way – most citrus peaks in late winter but limes are the exception and are only available, if you’re lucky, for a brief period in July and/or August (though this year, the season seemed longer).

I’m lucky to have kids who are adventurous about fruit (I’m not). So this week, we bought something we’d never seen before, labelled as an אנונה / anona.

Google unhelpfully told me that meant a pineapple, which it distinctly wasn’t. Looking it up when we got it home, it turned out to be a cherimoya, or custard apple. It’s weird and creamy-white in the centre, but everybody seemed to enjoy it. We also bought a papaya, and the store had other exotic delicacies, like starfruit, dragon fruit, quince, and others. If you see something you like, the rule is to buy it when you see it – because you may never see it again, or at least, not for another year.

Anone, Fruits, Tropicaux, Alimentaire, En Bonne Santé

(public domain photo of a cherimoya -- no idea why they’ve put it on the ground to take its picture)

Because fruits come and go – often so quickly, without warning -- the first of every fruit each year actually becomes an exciting occasion. An occasion to say shehechiyanu, which we sometimes forget to do, but should do every single time because the produce is so special when it’s a special guest in your life rather than a constant presence.

That also leads to the excitement over early oranges. As I said, citrus is a wintertime thing, but by pushing the season a little, they can get ugly little green oranges to market as early as October – and then the crowds go wild. I haven’t eaten one but my husband, who’s always part of the excited scramble to snatch them up, has assured me that they’re not as good as regular oranges. Similarly, the late produce sometimes isn’t as good – it goes bad faster, or it’s dry and sour.

One exception was last year’s grapefruits, which just kept getting sweeter and sweeter until I thought my head (or pancreas) would explode from drinking a single glass of juice. And then, basically the next day, they were gone. Not a trace, just an empty spot on the shelf where the grapefruits had been, to be filled in with some other produce until their auspicious return.

image

(actual picture I took at our local grocery store in April the day the grapefruits vanished)

This week, we also spotted the first tiny containers of strawberries. They’re about a quarter the size of the baskets you get at the peak of the season, for about five times the price (25 shekels for a little container). I’m sure the store wouldn’t bring them in if they didn’t sell. We passed on the berries and came home happy with our cherimoya.

The fact that strawberries are a winter fruit does have a downside – no fresh ones for smoothies in the summer, when you really NEED strawberries! Fortunately, there are a lot more frozen fruits available now – compared to almost none when we first made aliyah.

But all in all, I love the fact that my kids are growing up enjoying all these exotic fruits, connected to the earth of this country in a way we never were in Canada. That when we go to the grocery store in Toronto and they see every single kind of fruit and vegetable on the shelf, it’s almost too much – we’re all just a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, at least, by the quantity. And usually underwhelmed by the quality.

We’ve all become fresh-fruit snobs, and I love it. Over the last six years, we’ve been spoiled rotten by local bananas, pineapples, grapefruit, strawberries, cherimoyas, and all the other bounty this amazing Land has to offer.

It’s interesting that in the Torah, when the meraglim (spies) came here on their pilot trip to see what Israel was like, they brought back fruit. Giant fruit, in a story which has weirdly been adapted into the logo of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. And when they brought back the giant fruit, there were two responses:

  • · Kalev and Yehoshua – “Look at this amazing fruit, this place is gonna be great!”
  • · All the other meraglim – “Look at this mutant fruit, this place is gonna kill us!”

(For more of my quirky and insightful take on the Torah’s most exciting stories, check out my parsha book, The Family Torah, over here!)

The same thing is true for today’s ordinary-sized but still seasonal fruit. You can look at it and say, “Hey, why can’t we get blueberries? Why can’t I buy a mango for my smoothie in July? I would kill for a handful of raspberries. This recipe says you can only use fresh limes.”

Or you can look at it as Shlomo Hamelech does in Koheles and say, לַכֹּל, זְמָן; וְעֵת לְכָל-חֵפֶץ, תַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Hashem has so many ways of reminding us of this here in this land. Happy ways and sad ways, fun ways and scary ways. And fruity ways.

All this delicious bounty is just one more way of setting your body clock to Jewish time… exactly as Hashem intended.

I figured a list of fruit would probably not be helpful, but here’s a cool grammar tip:  you probably already know that the word for fruit is פרי / pri.  As in borei pri hagafen, every time you make kiddush (or pri hagefen, as your minhag may have it).  And you may also know that the plural is פירות / peirot.  But make no mistake – that “ot” on the end does NOT mean that fruit is feminine.  It’s a TRICK. 

In fact, just to make our lives miserable as olim chadashim, there are many masculine words whose plural is “ot.”  And many feminine words whose plural is “im” – like ביצים / beitzim / eggs.

So if you want to combine your plural fruit with adjectives, be careful to match it up with male adjectives:

  • פירות טריים / peirot tree’eem = fresh fruit
  • פירות יבשים / peirot yevaishim = dried fruit
  • פירות עונתיים / peirot onatee’eem = seasonal fruit
  • … and so on.

You’re welcome!

And, because I really did think this was going to be a post about the seasons changing (or not!), here’s a useful vocabulary chart to help you brave the seasons – and transitions – here in Israel:

English

Transliteration

Hebrew

season

onah

(plural, onot)

עונה

fall, autumn

stav

(also a popular name)

סתיו

summer

kayitz

(not used as a name, for some reason!)

קיץ

winter

choref

(not used as a name, that I know of!)

חורף

spring

aviv

(this and the female form, Aviva, are very popular names!)

אביב

the nostalgia of falling leaves (see this post for more!)

shalechet

שלכת

weather

the weather

mezeg aveer

mezeg ha’aveer

מזג אוויר

מזג האוויר

forecast

tachazit

תחזית

hamsin (Arabic name, used by regular people)

sharav (Hebrew name, only used in very formal contexts like newspapers and government)

chamseen

sharav

חמסין

שרבי

More fun with the seasons of Israel:

Fruit photo © Itzhak Zyssman via PikiWiki Israel and Wikimedia


Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


1 comment:

  1. I always use the word "sharav" שרב the Hebrew word, not "chamseen" the Arabic word. Hebrew should be Hebrew. The word for pineapple is "ananas" which by the way is "ananas" in every country except for English speaking countries where it is called "pineapple". Ananas is originally a Hawaiian word, not Hebrew. In my opinion, the bananas in America are tastier than in Israel. In America the bananas are sweeter than in Israel. Also, when buying bananas in Israel, they are usually either too green or too ripe; In America, there are more choices of bananas than in Israel.

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