By Max Fruchter
I remember 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 Apple weather app indicated an early snowfall in Jerusalem, a prospect which put me in a nostalgic state of mind, imagining all of the past snowball fights and sledding competitions I’d taken part in, which I never expected to witness in Israel.
I must admit that I, along with many others, had fallen for a widely held misconception. The many times I had been to Israel in the past (in the summer and early fall) caused me to believe that winter was somehow absent, or only mild, in comparison with New York. That, in some strange way, Israel only experienced long springs, even longer summers, and a short fall, but certainly no 30-degree, snowy winters. I have since learned through experience that many parts of Israel, like America, undergo bitter winters with freezing temperatures.
With roads closed off, stores shut down, and nearly half of the city left without power, it’s no wonder the record snowfall of 18 inches set Jerusalem in a state of confusion and stagnation. The air, which at one point held joy and excitement in anticipation of an early snow, was now filled with concern and trepidation in thinking of how a school-wide Shabbaton (scheduled to be in yeshiva, located in Jerusalem) would be feasible. With roads absolutely inaccessible, how would food be delivered? Furthermore, in what setting could a group of 130 people eat and daven, when the building had no light or heat?
Fortunately, winter has many upsides, many of which I was privileged to take part in this past week. I relish nature in its purest state. The sight of trees and fields totally enveloped in a powder-like snow was nothing short of a postcard bearing the picturesque scene of another winter in Canada or Colorado.
This past Thursday, upon hearing that we had a “snow day,” my friends and I knew a snowball fight was a must, for old times’ sake. Taking cover behind large trees and monstrous SUVs, 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 the cancellation of classes: the rebbeim and administrators—a majority of whom live in Beit Shemesh—reached as far as Mevaseret Zion when the treacherous driving conditions left them no choice but to turn around and return home. Thankfully, each faculty member reached their family safely, and surely enjoyed a classic snow day, as I know all of us did.
Curious as to what equipment a country that does not anticipate such threatening winters has access to, I asked the Israeli security guard in our school about the protocol. Although the country does not possess an impressive number of snowplows, tractors, or other clearing vehicles, hundreds of municipality workers were sent to salt roads, remove abandoned vehicles, and dispose of dangerous live wires and collapsed trees. Moshe told me that the bulk of cars in Israel are not equipped with all-wheel drive, and therefore cause a high number of accidents on the road. 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 carefree, enjoyable atmosphere had held up 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 18-20 inches of snow. The crushed trees, trapped cars, and fallen telephone wires were all testament to the strength of this severe snowstorm. Half of Jerusalem reportedly lost all power, posing a great difficulty in preparing for Shabbos without essential utilities such as heat, light, and hot water.
In yeshiva, the fast day only increased in bleakness with a power outage beginning around 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 in a cold, dark room, not knowing when my dead iPod would have the ability to recharge, or if the milk in our fridge would spoil. I decided to take a short walk to a nearby supermarket 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, I took a second to absorb the magnificent sight before me and capture the stillness of the moment with the camera I had brought along. I continued down the road only to see a dark and deserted supermarket with the word “SAGUR” (closed) hung on the front door. Luckily, the small fruit and vegetable stand directly across from the supermarket was open, and I was able to purchase some apples and bananas.
As the day progressed and 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 130 boys in yeshiva lit candles throughout the dorms, left flashlights on, and shut all the windows and doors in an attempt to maintain heat.
Immediately before Shabbos, as I relayed the day’s events to my mother and 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 parents the unbelievably opportune timing of the power coming back on. Something tells me, however, that such loving and caring parents shared in the same relief I experienced, knowing that their son was safe and that all had worked out.
From that moment onward, we only went on an upward slope toward a warm and pleasant Shabbos: plenty of food, which now could be heated up, was delivered to school; all of the rooms and hallways were beaming with light; and 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. v
Max Fruchter, a recent graduate of DRS Yeshiva High School in the Five Towns, is now attending yeshiva in Jerusalem.