Winter has come to the Holy Land, in all its cruel splendour and – as usual, in Israel – we were caught unprepared. It’s not that the meteorological office didn’t warn us about the storm front blowing in from Russia. It did. It’s just that it arrived a tad earlier than expected. The snow was supposed to start on Thursday. By Wednesday, we were already being warned that it was likely to start that night. It was thus with some trepidation that my choir set out in the pouring rain on Wednesday afternoon for Tivon (near Haifa) for our joint concert with the Tivon Chamber Choir. We had considered cancelling, but when it became apparent that quite a large number of tickets had already been sold, it was decided to go ahead. In truth, given the weather conditions on Wednesday, we didn’t expect a very large audience, but we were delighted to find out how wrong we were. The audience was so large that it was necessary to add extra chairs. Needless to say, the concert was a huge success, the enthusiastic audience gave us a truly warm welcome – and we even made it back safely to Jerusalem. As I dashed from the car park to my apartment block, at about 1 a.m., it was raining in sheets – but there was still no sign of snow.
All that changed overnight. I and my fellow Jerusalemites awoke on Thursday morning to a positive blizzard. Swirling snow flakes danced past the windows, a source of endless amusement for my cats. During the day, the storm tapered off, and the snow began turning to slush, but later in the evening, it started again and it snowed all through the night, so that this morning, the world was white once more.
I took advantage of a lull in the storm to nip down to the grocery store. There were no newspapers and no bread. Fortunately, I always keep a few rolls and a loaf of bread in the freezer and – best of all – I also happened to have a challah. From conversations overheard at the grocer’s, I understand that others weren’t so lucky. At any rate, I had taken the precaution of phoning ahead and ensuring that a carton of milk (also, it seems, in fairly short supply) was put aside for me.
On the way back, I photographed this miniature snowman, built by my neighbours’ children, with snow scraped from the bonnets of cars.
As I sit here, typing these words, Jerusalem is, to all intents and purposes, cut off from the rest of the country. The two major highways leading to the Capital, Highway 1 and Highway 443, are blocked to traffic. Hundreds of cars were stranded on the roads – because, despite police advice not to attempt to reach Jerusalem, a visit to the snow-covered capital is high on the list of “treats” for Israeli families. Israelis are notorious for ignoring police warnings. According to the reports I’ve been hearing on the radio and on TV, hundreds of people, whose cars were stranded, spent the night on the road, without food, drink or heating. A couple of thousand were rescued by the police and evacuated to emergency centres such as Binyanei Ha’Uma in Jerusalem or to nearby Modi’in. Highway 1 was partially opened for a couple of hours at midday, but is now closed again and the only way into or out of the Capital is by rail. From what I heard on the radio an hour or so ago, the Police and the Jerusalem Municipality are making concerted efforts to transfer the “snow refugees” to the Railway Station, in the hopes that they will be able to board the last train back to the coast at 15:30 (permission to operate the trains on Shabbat, which commences at 16:01 in Jerusalem on this December afternoon, not being forthcoming, so far). Several hundred more have been invited to spend the Sabbath with generous-hearted Jerusalemites, who have opened their homes to complete strangers. They’re like that, the people of Jerusalem.
Now the sky is once more covered with grey clouds. More snow is threatened, thousands of homes throughout the country are without electricity. The daytime temperature of 2 degrees Celsius is set to drop once more to -1 tonight. Trees have crashed onto power lines and the weather conditions are still preventing Electricity Company workers from carrying out repairs. In the street where my father lives, the telephone lines have been damaged and cannot be repaired until the weather improves. Thank heavens for mobile phones – although my father tells me that they, too, are having difficulties. As for other emergencies – I heard on the radio that in Jerusalem alone, the number of calls to 100 (the Israeli equivalent of 911 in the US, or 999 in the UK) over the past 24 hours, was equal to the daily average for the whole country on a normal day.
Did I mention that it’s Friday 13th today? Well, according to the Jewish calendar, it’s also the fast of 10th Tevet, marking the day when the Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE. This time, we are being besieged by the weather.
So far, (touch wood), my own phone seems to be working and I have not (yet) experienced a power cut. My Shabbat evening meal is cooking on the stove. I hope I have sufficient hot water for a shower (I had to turn on the auxiliary boiler – useless to rely on the solar heater on a day like this). The Sabbath will start in just over an hour. Let’s hope it passes safely and peacefully for us all.
Shabbat Shalom to you all.