By Shmuel Katz
Boy, did I pick the wrong week last week to write about anomalous weather in Israel! I figured that an extremely unseasonal sandstorm, along with the picture I shot of the sun shining through the sand, would be my one weather story for a while. Then came Friday.
Before I go further, yes, I know that you are all freezing there with the coldest temperatures recorded in decades. I know that it has snowed and snowed, and then snowed some more. But I grew up in Chicago, where we often did not see the grass from late November until sometime in March or April. So snow and cold in a place that often sees snow and cold is not such a big surprise.
What we had here, snow in Bet Shemesh, was absolutely astonishing. The last time it snowed here was more than 15 years ago. While it is not on the same level as snow in Miami (once in recorded history), it is still way out there. We’ve had hail and freezing temps, but the circumstances for snow to fall (in this case, actually a mix of snow and hail) and stick to the ground are quite rare here.
I did not sleep well for the entirety of Goldie’s trip. It was therefore no big deal for me to be up a few minutes before 6 a.m. I checked my phone for messages and noticed a conversation Goldie had with Batya about 90 minutes earlier (Batya had been woken up by thunder) where Goldie asked Batya to confirm weather reports of snow here and Batya excitedly told her that it was indeed snowing.
I quickly looked outside and could barely believe what I was seeing. Within minutes, the kids were all up and outside. We were among the first on the block to get out, but within 20 minutes, there must have been 30 kids playing in it. Snowballs, snowmen—they tried to do it all. With about half an inch of snow.
Here is where the story turns kind of pathetic.
City Hall, in a paroxysm of panic over the snow, canceled all school for the day throughout the city (kudos to the chareidi schools that opened anyway). They also announced that all public bus service was shut down for the day. This made sense, since there was a lot of slush and ice on the ground, especially early in the day, and the bus drivers here have don’t have experience or training in how to drive in the snow.
So an extremely odd and novel situation ended up partially paralyzing our little corner of the world and quite a few other cities here. With little expertise and equipment to handle snowfall, there is no alternative. Yet we plan better for these storms, which seem to be increasing in frequency.
Using the experience they garnered in last year’s major storm, which shut Yerushalayim for days, Chaya’s hospital, Shaare Zedek, implemented emergency protocol, calling for 12-hour shifts instead of 8-hour shifts, in order to reduce the trips per employee to work. While Chaya has a nurse’s apartment on campus at the hospital and does not even need to go outdoors to get to work, many hospital staffers had a hard time getting in, and their snow plan tried to accommodate travel restrictions.
Many companies closed early in anticipation of the storm, allowing their employees to get out of the city before the snow was due to arrive. In all, the focus for this storm seemed to be avoiding problems rather than trying to deal with them after the fact. Dealing with snow issues means plows, cleaning crews, etc. It makes little sense to actually make such preparations. Not when you only need to use that planning once every 15 years. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.