You have seen the pictures. They say it was a once-in-a-century storm. It is Tuesday, and Yerushalayim is still shut down from night till mid-morning (as melting snow turns to ice and the roads become impassable). Yishuvim in Gush Etzion, some of whom had over three feet of snowfall, have no school. People are stranded in their homes—some of them without electricity since last week. The train tracks from Modiin to Tel Aviv have been flooded out for days. Throughout areas of higher elevation here, the snow stuck and is (unbelievably) still here.
As survivors of Sandy, you probably laugh at this. But, as I said, this was also a once-in-a-century storm (it snowed in Egypt for the first time in 100+ years) and, in a place without any capacity to cope with lasting snow accumulations, the aftermath is surprising. It is also surprising to see how quickly the country shut down from the storm.
The snow began in Jerusalem early Thursday morning. Both Chaya (nursing school dorm) and Aliza (sherut leumi apartment) sent us photos and videos of the snow falling. Aliza left her dorm for home at 8:30 a.m. in order to beat the storm. By the time she got to the Bet Shemesh bus stop (almost two hours later), all transportation in and out of the city was totally shut down and she was stranded. Thankfully, a guard called to her from a nearby office building to come get warm and have a hot drink.
She then went to the Central Bus Station, where she found thousands of other stranded people. At around 2:30, with the snow in a brief lull, she and a couple of girlfriends wandered out and were lucky enough to catch a cab to Bet Shemesh. Not everyone was so lucky. A neighbor of ours stopped his car to help some stranded people. He was a 20-minute drive from home. By the time he got back to his car, the road had frozen beneath his tires, and he was stranded with his 12-year-old son. They eventually got home—almost 15 hours later, after the army came and evacuated them.
Rambam Mesivta had scheduled an alumni Shabbaton in Yeshivat Gush Etzion, which was cancelled on Friday. As their backup, our three Rambam guys (Ezra Pinsky, Dovid Cohen, and Ari Roth) got on the train to come to Bet Shemesh. The trip is normally 90 minutes. Their trip took almost three hours, once the trains shut down because of flooding. Luckily, they were able to exit the train in Tel Aviv and catch the next to last bus from there to Bet Shemesh.
About 20 minutes before Friday Minchah, I got a call from another one of our students, Avi Cohen. Two friends of his from Detroit (where he lives) were stranded in Bet Shemesh. Could I find them somewhere to stay for Shabbat? Apparently, these two girls had managed to get on the train from Yerushalayim (the only form of transportation in and out of that city on Friday), only to be stranded in Bet Shemesh. Originally scheduled to go to Chashmonaim, I sped to the train to bring them home.
The train station is not in a residential area. Had Avi not been able to reach me, they could very well have been stranded there with no clue of which direction to go. Thank G-d, he did reach me and we had a very full house for Shabbat. (And, because of the weather, they did not make it back to Yerushalayim until late Sunday.)
Our Chaya had shifts in the hospital over the weekend. Instead of risking being snowed out, she made plans to spend Shabbat locally. Good planning on her part. She told us that no nurses/doctors could get into the city and the hospital staff was working non-stop, rotating for sleep breaks in order to keep everyone fresh and make sure all the patients were cared for.
Sadly, many farmers lost huge amounts of crops in the fields, as well as a lot of the crops that they had harvested and were storing for future use. We may see a rise in the costs of fruits and vegetables over the next year.
A storm also means that there is precipitation. With the chagim and calendar skewing so early in relation to the solar calendar, we had started saying an special additional tefillah in Shemoneh Esreh for rain (even though the significant rains don’t usually come until mid to late December). Even though most of the rain went into saturating the ground and only a portion of it went to our reserves, most shuls stopped saying the tefillah.
Interestingly, this storm began on the day after you folks in chutz la’aretz started saying “Tal Umattar,” so thanks for all the kavanah—we really appreciate it. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at email@example.com.