Israeli snow culture — (extreme) case in point

Israeli snow culture — (extreme) case in point

By now you have seen and heard about the most severe snowstorm in Israel’s history.

For the record, here is how snow usually plays out in Jerusalem, the country’s most populous area, in snowy weather: Three or four days before snow is expected, every conversation in the nation’s capital includes mention of the possibility of snow. At the tiniest crystallization of moisture from the sky, thousands of Jerusalemites shout “snow, snow.” Whereupon the entire city empties: schools and businesses shut down and everyone makes a mad dash for safety – whatever the expected accumulation.

Once home, here is how Jerusalemites traditionally deal with snow: They do nothing but try to enjoy it for as long as it lasts. Because typically it doesn’t last (it might not even stick), and within a day it’s gone. Snowstorm 2013 was thus unusual both for its accumulation – it snowed three days in a row – and its longevity – unusually low temperatures limited meltdown until the middle of the following week. So I don’t think that the authorities can be faulted for not planning for a storm of this nature, though calls for “investigations” as to the “failures” of the various ministries abounded. (My neighbor remarked: “Yes, the electric company said they were prepared, just like Golda Meir said she was prepared before the Yom Kippur War.”)

What bedeviled the electric company in part was the fact that November had been unusually warm. Trees that would have been leafless come December were carrying extra weight, and many collapsed under the snow – sometimes on power lines. Power went out in Givat Ze’ev, where I live, beginning at night on Thursday, December 12 (either fully, or partially, as in my case), and power was out totally on Friday for all of Givat Ze’ev. (Some of it came back early Saturday morning; it was not fully restored until Sunday night).

On Friday afternoon, my wife, Sarah, heard one of the men on my block ask another: “Did you tell the Ashkenazi?” It turns out that the Ashkenazi (yours truly) had indeed been told (by my neighbor Yossi the bus driver) that because of the continued snowfall and power outage, Haviv was hosting services at his house, a few doors from mine. It was a lovely, traditional Sephardic service, with plenty of singing, all the more admirable considering that some of the men present had not eaten all day. (Friday had been the Tenth of Tevet, a fast day.) Astonishingly, Haviv’s living room was warm: he had an old-fashioned gas heater that was running smoothly.

Shabbat dinner on Friday was by candlelight. The food was warm thanks to my gas range, with an old-fashioned “blech” of aluminum foil on top. My beautiful challah, though, lay forlornly unbaked on the kitchen counter.

The next day was a bar mitzvah day in our synagogue. Because the mother is one of eight and the father is one of seven, the family had lined up rooms and beds for about 80 guests. But not one grandparent or uncle or aunt could make it through to Givat Ze’ev that Shabbat. Our community came through, however, and we celebrated with gusto with the family.

Even though power returned on Sunday evening, Givat Ze’ev was still fairly cut off from Jerusalem through Monday. That morning, as I tried to drive into Jerusalem for work, I soon was confronted by bumper-to-bumper traffic. I realized that the road ahead, with its steep incline, had been closed, but I couldn’t figure out why the cars were hardly moving. How long does it take to turn around and drive back the other way?

When I got to the head of the line I discovered the problem: Many of the Israelis had to be persuaded to turn around. Here’s the scene: The road is blocked, the policeman is motioning for you to turn around, but you try to convince him that you’re special.

But you know what? I’m still crazy enough about this country to think that the driver is probably right.