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Why I watch the Weather Channel

 Cantor Jessica (Fox) Epstein

September 2001

When I can't stand watching one more minute of all spin all the time infotainment, I turn on The Weather Channel. The only thing spinning there is a weak low-pressure system down in the Gulf. I find comfort in the never ending battle between warm and cold fronts. I meditate on the slow progression of high and low pressure systems over the plains. I thrill to record highs and lows. I

love it when Marshall Seese switches the map from the actual temperatures to the wind chill factor. It makes me want to tell Minnesota to put on a hat.

During this time of acrimony and litigious division it's nice to know that we're all in something together. Forget about the electoral college, we're being invaded by a Canadian air mass. While chads pile up on Florida floors, lake effect snows are piling up in the Midwest. On The Weather Channel there are no blue states. No red states. Just swaths of color sweeping through time zones and over state borders. Aren't those state lines artificial anyway? Western Ohio looks just like eastern Indiana.

That classic poster which humorously maps "A New Yorker's View of the World" is funny because it's true. People in New York and New Jersey don't think the middle of the country is important. I like being reminded of how expansive and rural our country is. I grew up in Kankakee, Illinois. My first address was Rural Route 3 Box 387. I went to college in Champaign. I liked the fact that there were round barns and corn plots right on campus. Tornado warnings and watches were part of life. Soil temperatures at various depths were reported on the evening news. For me out here on the more temperate East Coast, watching The Weather Channel reminds me that there are other places to live and other ways of making a living. Like the professorial protagonist in Don DeLillo's post-modern novel, White Noise, "I realized weather was something I'd been looking for all my life. It brought me a sense of peace and security I'd never experienced." It makes me want to take road trips. I want to go to places with great American names. Lubbock. Sioux City. Kansas City. Missoula. Baton Rouge. International Falls. Minot.

Hearing about the nation's weather makes me feel like part of a nation and not merely a demographic. Despite what Madison Avenue would us like to believe, we are more than just our age, level of education and income. In so many ways, we are defined by our geography. We grow where we're planted. But how many of us feel deeply rooted to the land upon which we live? We don't live off the land. We don't even mow our own lawns.

Without physical roots I believe people become psychically stunted. I know I did just from living in starless Manhattan for a few years. The Israelites were a loosely bound group of nomads until Joshua and the tribal leaders of Israel settled the land. Only then could they establish a greater identity and become a nation. Living in a land "flowing with milk and honey" was part of the covenant with God. As long as they did what the Landlord wanted, the land was theirs. While it is true that two thousand years without a home or Temple created a Judaism that was infinitely flexible and adaptable; the lack of a homeland also led to a Judaism that was persecuted, fearful, and overly cerebral. Despite our exile, we held onto our agrarian past. We still observed harvest festivals. No matter where we were we prayed for rain and dew in season over the land of Israel. We still do, except for Reform Jews. Maybe we should restore these weather-related prayers to their rightful place in our consciousness?

The early Zionists believed that working on the Land would forge a new type of Jewish man and woman. They were right. The connection to the Land is not inherently good. But the very act of reclaiming and rebuilding does create physical strength, endurance, and necessitates cooperation. Living through the Land, rather than merely upon it, reinforces the knowledge that we are dependent upon God for every aspect of our existence. Life away from the land deludes us into thinking we are gods.

I'm a Zionist not only because I believe that Eretz Yisrael was given to us by God, but because through the return and the ingathering of our people, I believe that Judaism itself will be renewed. No matter how angry I become with Israelis and Israeli politics, I embrace Israel. Lately some American Jews have supported calls for a divided, or worse, an "international" Jerusalem. For me, peace is ephemeral. Land is eternal. So is the jet stream.

Weather reminds me of infinity and mortality. The heat from our sun moves over the water and creates winds which blow around our spinning rock. Ruach Elohim. The breath of God. Weather reminds me that there are great forces at work in the world. The only place that still shows up as a hot, angry red on the map this time of year is southern Florida.