Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Bring on the Snow!

The very first time I experience snow in Israel, I was visiting my sister during my college winter break. I was on a bus in Jerusalem when someone called out, "Snow!"

I looked and looked and for the life of me, I couldn't see a thing. The passengers became animated; people began pointing and calling out, yelling in excitement and I saw that it was, indeed, snowing...a total of about five flakes of snow! Coming from a place where it snowed enough each year for you to wish desperately for spring, I was amazed at how excited the people were.

On the other hand, the bus driver looked as if he was sweating as he called out "Quiet! Quiet! Can't you see it's snowing!" I never did understand why we had to be quiet but there was, in seconds complete silence so that our driver could navigate the bus in safety concentrating on the monumental task he believed he had ahead of him. Not a single flake actually stuck to the ground more than a second or two before melting, but to him, that snow appeared to be his greatest nightmare..

My first snow "storm" after we made aliyah consisted of a two hour event. Snow fell, a light dusting on our front lawn. My children were bundled up in their sweaters and coats - two socks on each hand because they had no gloves. While I stayed inside with my newborn baby, my older children, their father and aunt, went outside to play.

They built a snow dwarf (all of about 10 inches high ... I still thought in inches back in those days), had a 10 minute snowball fight and then came in for hot chocolate just as the snow stopped and the sun came out. Half an hour later, warmed on the inside and out and ready for round two, the snow was gone.

A few years ago, I drove back to Maale Adumim through a snow covered Jerusalem, grateful that the road had been plowed and was merely wet. I pulled to the side of the road carefully a few minutes after I noticed two plastic shopping bags on the floor of my car. I got out of the car, filled the bags and then continued home.

At the entrance to our beautiful city in the desert, I pulled to the side and handed the guard a snowball. There was, of course, no snow in Maale Adumim and he smiled when he took it and then asked me for another. I quickly made him a second snowball and he said, "thank you."

He walked to the guardhouse and as he got close, he called out, "Yossi....Yossi," I drove away smiling as the soldier threw a snowball at an unsuspecting Yossi.

For several years, the city of Maale Adumim trucked in snow from the Golan and filled a parking lot with it. Children from all over the city came and played with it...and then, being a city in the desert, the snow turned to slush and melted away. But for those few hours, all the wonder of the world was in the eyes of our children.

Last year, the unexpected happened - the storm of a century dropped a meter of snow on Jerusalem and for a city that sees only one or two real snowfalls a year, and often not even that, the city was crippled. For all the criticism, they handled it brilliantly, bringing in armored personnel vehicles to ferry food, water and medical care where it was needed. People shared, helped neighbors, brought food to the elderly. Yes, there were lessons to be learned, and the city did learn many of them. But as I heard sneering complaints from people who told of their native country or city would have handled it better, I became increasingly proud of Jerusalem.

A few short weeks later, Atlanta, Georgia was hit with a mere two inches of snow and came to a complete halt. Students were stuck in schools overnight and the city was in a panic. Suddenly, how Jerusalem handled a meter of snow didn't seem nearly so ridiculous.

We are now expecting another storm and the city is mobilizing and responding and I'm willing to bet there will be those who complain the city is over-reacting. Sometimes you can't win.

But as I found humor when the bus driver was so nervous more than 30 years ago, I find humor now in the fact that the police have already announced that as soon as the snow storm starts, they are going to shut down the two main roadways into/out of Jerusalem. That leaves the road to Gush Etzion, which will likely get even more snow than Jerusalem, the road towards northern Jerusalem, and our road to Maale Adumim as the main, last remaining thoroughfares. Since we travel through Jerusalem to get to Tel Aviv, we'll be largely cut off from the rest of Israel, just as Jerusalem will be.

We got a note from my daughter's school, already closing the dorms for the overnight students and dismissing the older classes. My son in yeshiva is plotting when he can come home because he has already signed up to volunteer for Magen David Adom on the worst day of the storm and wants to make sure he can get home. He doesn't mind getting stuck in Jerusalem but is afraid he might get stuck on the other side, near the center of Israel, where all he'll see is rain, rain, rain.

Last year, he went in with the ambulance and spent hours in the city until they finally came back here, the ambulance no longer able to handle the hills inside the city. I panicked because his phone went to voice mail and last I heard he was planning on trying to get in to Jerusalem to help. The head of the volunteer program had mercy on me and called around until he found my son at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, after helping to bring in someone who needed medical care. My son was instructed to charge his phone battery and call his mother!

There is so much going on in the world - serious stuff, sad stuff. Challenges, accidents, tragedy, trials, elections, corruption, parties falling apart and wannabee politicians switching parties...it's nice to focus on something as mundane as a storm coming in.

So if you ask me what Israel is thinking about now - it isn't the elections, it isn't the Hague. It isn't the supposed sex scandal with Prince Andrew or Alan Dershowitz. It isn't Obama or Kerry or Clinton or Palin or whatever and whoever.

For the most part, the talk on the street is about when the winds will start, when the rain to come, how far above sea level each city is and at what height the snow will fall. My city is at the lower edge...600 feet above sea level. Jerusalem is closer to the top and is forecasted to get "a lot". I don't know what "a lot" is...but we'll see.

In some places, it will turn to freezing rain and then snow; others will only experience strong wind and rain. What we all know is that it is winter in Israel, a time when tourism is relatively low and it feels like the country is ours alone.

For all that Israel is truly a modern country with access to the latest and greatest technologies, there is something so wonderful about the wonder with which we face each snow storm - so unexpected, so new.

I know that Israelis are somewhat jaded by life, sometimes pessimistic about a future that will likely never include peace, global acceptance, real security and more...and given all that, there is something infinitely wonderful about losing ourselves in the wonder of the whiteness, the purity of snow.

Despite all the inconvenience it will bring and hoping it won't bring injury or suffering, I personally hope we get hit with another meter of snow!

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