Letter From Israel
I used to live in Canada. As winter approached, home-owners routinely took down, washed (if they were of a mind to splash dead insects around) and stored their window screens; freed their double windows from wherever the screens had spent the winter and readied the house for cold weather. Depending on the number of windows, that job could occupy adults and strong, dependable offspring for a week.
Following the windows endeavour came ‘winterising the car’, for no one would need snow tires until after the first Big Snow—which could come at any time, but not before the cold weather began in earnest. Winterising the car meant putting tire chains into the boot after checking to see that the clips would hold for another year; adding anti-freeze to the windscreen washers and one or two other activities I’ve happily forgotten.
The winter clothing issue was then addressed. How many family members had grown out of last year’s warmth? It was always hard to lasso younger kids to try on hand-me-downs unless that child had had an eye on that garment from the previous frost.
Boots. How did they multiply over the winter? They were always kicked off at the door, instantly inhibiting easy passage. They were always wet inside and out—how Canadian feet ever grew healthy is a miracle. And no matter how many instructions were issued on the care and placement of boots, they always ended in a colossal mess. As did the back of the ankle, which was often rubbed raw by the edge of a wet boot when the sock had slid toe-ward. (This was before the invention of tights for people who did not study ballet. What an improvement that was!)
Private homes were built with vestibules, a space between the front door and the house, with a second door to stop the wind from bringing the snow right into the kitchen. Not closing the second door brought screams: CLOSE THE DOOR!!! Apartment buildings had vestibules but the individual flats didn’t.
Coats were heavy, made of wool and smelled bad by the end of the season. Same with scarves. Gloves and mitts were spared that fate, they were usually lost within the first weeks of play. Little kids wore mittens that were connected with a cord; they were installed on the inside of the coat and frequently pinned to the cuff of each sleeve. Those were harder to lose but carried an implied danger: If the kid put the coat on by tossing it over his head, the cord could choke him. Always ‘him’. Girls would never do that. In any case, cords and pins were objectionable once schooling began.
OK, you get the picture. Shift to Israel in the 21st century. When I lived in Jerusalem, snowstorms occurred there about every five years. I was startled to read recently that the rate is now every second year. And this is the second year.
In 2013, Jerusalemites who had survived any of the big wars must have recognised the symptoms—grocery stores running out of food, fear of leaving home and danger on the streets. Several feet of snow had fallen. Streets were impassable; cars stopped wherever their petrol gave out. With everyone at home, there was nowhere to park.
The ascent to Jerusalem was clad in a fug of exhaust from cars stuck on the incline, incapable of proceeding toward the Holy City but running their motors to keep warm. They, of course, ran out of gas.
The ever optimistic Israeli assumed that he (always ‘he’, about 90% of those drivers were men!) would make it up the hill. No provisions for any other outcome were brought; not even a dry biscuit for the tens and tens of animals who loyally accompanied their masters—without the ability to scold. Gotta love them.
So this year, the mayor of Jerusalem had a great idea: Close all roads into the city before the storm. I don’t know how that turned out—we lost TV and Internet on the second day.
UPDATE: It didn’t snow nearly enough to justify the expensive protective and preventive actions earnestly carried out by mayors of towns such as Safed and Jerusalem. Joke’s on you, guys!