By : Max Fruchter –
I remember quite clearly the shock i felt when i first saw the picture of a snowflake on my IPod designated for the upcoming Thursday and Friday. This tiny image on the widely used Apple weather app indicated an early snowfall in Jerusalem, a prospect which left me in a nostalgic state of mind, imagining all of the past snowball fights and sledding competitions I took part in, certainly none of which I expected to bear witness to in Israel. I must admit that I, along with many others, have fallen for a widely accepted misconception. The numerous times I had been to Israel in the past (in the summer and early fall) granted me cause to believe that the season of winter was somehow absent or only mild in comparison with those of New York. That in some strange way, Israel only experienced long springs, even longer summers, and a short fall, but certainly no thirty degree, snow fallen winters. I, along with many others, learned through experience that many parts of Israel, like America, undergo bitter winters with freezing temperatures.
With roads closed off, stores shutdown, and nearly half of the city left without power, it’s no wonder the record snowfall of eighteen inches set Jerusalem in a state of confusion and stagnation. The air which at one point held the joy and excitement towards the anticipation of such an early sight of snow was now filled with concern and trepidation in thought of how a school wide Shabbaton (scheduled to be in Yeshiva, located in Jerusalem) would be feasible. In all logistical facets the snow seemed to discredit any notion that Shabbos under such severe weather conditions would be possible : With roads absolutelty inaccessable how would food be delivered? Furthermore, in what setting could a group of one hundred and thirty people eat and daven when the very building in which they are to spend that time provides no light or heat?
Fortunately, winter has a tremendous amount of upsides, many of which I was privileged to take part in this past week. Personally, I relish in any view of nature in its purest state, so you can imagine the lack of words I hold for recounting the absolutely beautiful snow covered buildings, homes, and trees which comprised of my surroundings. The sight of trees and fields totally enveloped in a powder-like snow were nothing short of a postcard bearing the picturesque scene of another winter in “Canada” or “Colarado”.
Similarly, in such cold places, are the traditional snowball fights held in parks or simply on the street. This past Thursday, upon hearing about an always exciting and spirit -lifting “snowday ” my friends and I knew a snowball fight was a must, for old time sake. Taking cover behind large trees and monstrous SUV ‘s, I couldn’t help but laugh when hitting a completely unaware friend, at least not until I felt the harsh sting of cold snow trickle down my neck and realized that I was just as oblivious. All of this jovial play in the snow almost took our minds off of the reason for a cancellation of classes- the Rabbeim and administrators, a majority of who live in Beit Shemesh, reached as far as Mevaseret Zion until the treacherous driving conditions left them no choice but to turn around and return home, unable to complete their journey to school. Thankfully, each faculty memeber reached their families safely and surely enjoyed a classic snowday as I know all of us did.
Curious as to what equipment a country which does not anticipate threatening winters has access to, I asked the Israeli security guard in our school about the protocol taken by the government in response to such a tempest. I was fascinated to learn that although the country as a whole does not possess an impressive number of snowplows, tractors, or other clearing vehicle, all snowstorms are nevertheless dealt with in a sufficient and accomplishing manner. Hundreds of municipality workers were sent to salt roads, remove abandoned vehicles, and dispose of dangerous live wires and collapsed trees. Interestingly, Moshe told me that, first and foremost, the bulk of cars in Israel are not equipped with all wheel drive and therefore cause a high number of accidents on the road. It is for this reason that many cars are left on highways and streets only to be towed by the government employees responsible for clearing roads and opening them to the public.
As much as I wish this care free and ever enjoyable atmosphere held constant through the weekend, such was not the case. Each of us in school were in for a shock as weather reports predicted a record accumulation of roughly eighten to twenty inches of snow. The crushed trees, trapped cars, and fallen telephone wires were all testament to the indisputable strength of this severe snowstorm. So powerful was this storm that a reported half of Jerusalem lost all power, posing a great difficulty in preparing for Shabbos without essential utilities such as heat, light, and hot water.
In Yeshivah, the already mellow fast day only increased in bleakness with the power outage beginning approximately at eight in the morning. Shortly thereafter administrators could be heard on the phone passionately requesting that our caterer have the Shabbos food delivered despite the closed roads; candles were lit along tables in the dining room and across staircases in hope of providing enough light to ensure that no one would slip or fall in the darkness. Everyone was doing something, big or small, to make this weekend a successful one.
I awoke that Friday to a cold, dark room unaware of when my dead IPod would have the ability to recharge or if the perishable milk in our fridge would spoil or not. With much caution I decided to take a short walk to a nearby supermarket wishing to purchase some food before Shabbos. As I trudged through a foot and a half of snow, hoping my adidas sneakers would survive the frigid slush into which I had submerged them, I took a second to absorb the magnificent sight before me and capture the stillness of the moment with a camera I had brought along. Shortly after, I continued down the road only to see a dark and deserted supermarket with the words “SAGUR ” (closed) hung on the front door. Luckily, the small fruit and vegetable stand directly across from this supermarket was open and I was able to purchase some delicious apples and bananas.
As the day progressed and the outlook of a power restoration seemed less and less likely, my friends and I began preparing in every way we could for a Shabbos without power: close to one hundred and thirty boys in Yeshiva lit candles throughout the dorms, left flashlights on, and shut all windows and doors in attempt to maintain heat. Immediately before Shabbos, as I relayed the days events to my father over the phone, the power miraculously came back. That phone conversation left me with a shortage of words as I could not express to my dad the unbelievably opportune timing of the power coming back on. From that moment onward the Shabbos only went on an upward slope in ultimately becoming a warm and pleasant one : plenty of food, which now could be heated up, was delivered to school, all of the rooms and hallways were beaming with light, and as a whole, the entire Yeshiva was filled with positivity and happiness. Despite the bitter cold weather, that Shabbos turned out to be one of the warmest and sweetest I have ever experienced.