Tag Archives: snow

On a white Friday

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There are a lot of things going on around me these days, both in my private life and in the world around me. But as I write this today, looking through the windows of my living room, most of the issues of interest have lost their importance when seen in the context of the snowstorm that is now visiting Jerusalem. Last week I wrote about the dust that descended upon us… the difficulty of breathing… the depressing brown and yellow skies. Since then, we had a good rain that washed the city clean, and then a couple of days that were cold but clear. The air was a pleasure to breathe, and the visibility was perfect. But all the while, there were warnings on the radio that the snow was coming. And then it came.

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We had a few days to stock up on supplies, and to get ready. And now it’s here. Nechama does enjoy watching it all through the window, but she has no interest in going outside. And though I wanted to step outside and get to meet it intimately, the first try was a bit much for me. It was very cold and wet and slippery. The snow got into creases I didn’t even know I had… tried to pet my camera, and tickled my spine. Sneaked into my boots and gave me cold feet. So I went back in, and waited for the calm after the storm. The problem is that it looks almost docile when seen through the window. But it can be fierce when you face it. Finally, the sun peeked between the clouds, and I went out for a second time, for a nice little walk.

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the path from the park to my house

Still, there is something miraculous about the snow, as I mentioned a year ago. Especially in Jerusalem, which is not really equipped to handle such weather. Most of the shops are closed. The transportation is crippled. And for a few days, there’s a break in the routine. For a few days, people have to make do with what they have at home. Last year we had a serious electrical outage as well, and so many of our gadgets stopped working. The heating stopped and we had to stay warm with the help of blankets. And illuminate our rooms with candles and torches. But even so, it was a wonderful adventure. This year, the electricity has been reliable, and aside from a complete shut down of transportation, everything seems to be working well.

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But let me tell you of the picnic basket I found the other day. It was after the big rain, and while we were waiting for the snow storm. And it was found near the trash bin on the street, not far from the grocery store. A place where many people walk by. It was an old fashioned basket. Not made of plastic, but of woven straw… I opened it, and looked in. There was a nice collection of books… some of them, art books, methodically arranged. And a few video tapes. It reminded me somehow of the basket found by the Egyptian princess, within which the baby Moses was found. I could imagine the owner of those books, having realized that he or she no longer had room on his shelves for any more books, but not wanting to throw them in the trash, packed them carefully in the basket in the hope that some young student would find the basket and rejoice at the discovery of the books. It was a moving sight.

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Another image of this last week was the conjunction of some beautiful tulips that Chana brought over last Friday, warning me that they were beautiful but wouldn’t last long. Yet they are still beautiful after a week in my over heated home… and next to them, a bottle of tequila that my daughter Rivka brought when she came to visit, bearing enchiladas to cheer me up. The tequila was brought to get me into the proper mood to eat Mexican food. It was just right.

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eating an enchilada, Rivka

A blogging friend of mine, Corina, has posted that on this day, the 20th of February, a thousand bloggers plan to write about compassion, in concert with the United Nations World Day of Social Justice. So I would like to join the thousand, and ask that we have compassion for the snow. Here today and gone tomorrow… The snow first comes to us with pristine beauty… a pure white cloak that covers our world. And usually winds up looking like mud, and treated like an eye sore. Let’s remember that all of us are here on a temporary basis. And by the time we’re ready to finish our term, we’ve usually been stepped on a few times, and left a few puddles behind us. So here’s my vote of compassion for the snow. May you enjoy a warm and comfortable winter, with a bit of adventure to keep your spirits up.

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doesn’t snow look best with blue skies above?

national trauma week

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autumn leaves in winter

We have a saying here, when someone tells us something that is no longer relevant. We say, ‘that’s as interesting as last year’s snow’. But this week, despite a rather aggravated case of political heebie jeebies, with national politicians changing parties after each fresh edition of an opinion poll. All of a sudden… under a blue sky of momentary sunny weather in the midst of winter, normal, rational men and women lost all interest in anything but the weather. It started slowly at first… If I remember correctly, last weekend, there were a couple of comments made… you know… ‘such beautiful autumn weather, and next week it’ll probably snow’. The sort of idle talk you might hear as someone reluctantly looks for something, and then gazes through the window at the colorful leaves left on a tree.

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rosehips

But later there were solid rumors. Not just the ‘I heard Jake say’, but those rumors that make you stop and take stock: the report that the assistant director of the Jerusalem sanitation department demanded all snow removal machines be checked to see if they had a full tank of gas in their tanks. It only took a few hours until every news item had to find its place in line on national news behind the weather report.

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mini graffiti found on a schoolyard fence

By evening, when the weather appeared at the top of the Channel 1 news roundup, it was in fact reported that the coming snow fall, this week, might exceed that of last year. Immediately after that hit the airways, a silence moved through private homes from the Negev desert to Mount Hermon. Around the country, fathers looked at mothers, mothers looked at children. And children rolled their eyes heavenward; our version of the ‘gasp heard around the world’.

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I like to keep warm with some hot kube soup in winter

Now, those readers who live somewhere outside of Israel may not remember last year’s snow. I think most of us Israelis would find that completely excusable. After all, we’re a very small country, and we always have one kind of trouble or another. Why should our little troubles interest the big boys on the international stage of events? Of course you don’t remember. But there isn’t a cat over the age of two in Jerusalem, or a man, woman or child in all of Israel over the age of five, who can’t recall all the details of last year’s snowfall.

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and how wonderful that artichokes have come into season…

Needless to say that it snowed last year. And it could be that the clever fellow in charge of keeping the snow removal equipment ready for action, had heard that the price of benzene was about to go down, and wanted to impress his superiors that he was the sort who knew how to save a penny. Of course, if it had just been that, the whole incident would probably be forgotten by now. But it got kind of cold, and everyone turned on their electric heaters at the same time. And then when the electricity failed, everyone called their closest friends to see if it had happened to them too. That paralyzed the cell phone system. And then, when a few hundred cars got stuck on the main highway to Jerusalem because of ice and snow, with bob sleds and skis sticking out of a wide variety of hybrid passenger cars, the truckers bringing food to the supermarkets were unable to think of anything better to do than take a nap on that cot they have behind the driver’s cabin.

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one of my neighbors keeps all of his emergency equipment out on the balcony

Not only were all the shelves in the supermarket left vacant, but those who insisted on buying those items left behind in the mad rush to stay supplied, were further frustrated when they got to the cash register. Because all the communication lines were down, and it was impossible to check whether credit cards were stolen, or invalid because of pathological buying habits on the part of the consumer. And so, the clerks were asking for real money! As a loyal Israeli, I hate to say it, but that meter plus snowstorm last year led to confusion, chaos, and then out and out pandemonium, as my fellow citizens began to realize that they couldn’t go on with their everyday lives in the middle of a snow storm.

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what could be better for an evening meal than Portobello mushrooms

And now, just the memory of what happened last year, was enough to give rise to an aftershock, a year later. Of course, it’s easy to laugh at others. So I feel an obligation to disclose my own share of disquiet. Remember the tablet I bought recently, in an attempt to be just as up to date as all the kids? And how I went out of my mind trying to peck out messages with two fingers instead of ten? That was after trying to write an article describing my impressions of the ‘ever growing gap between rich and poor’ on my smartphone, and discovered too late that the phone was so small I couldn’t find it after putting it aside for dinner, and then had trouble reading what I myself had written on its small screen.

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and here I am taking the above picture, captured by Chana

So now, equipped with a rather addictive tablet that I had learned to use after infinite suffering… and despite the fact that its batteries are able to keep it functioning for nine hours without recharge… I stopped using it altogether so that it would remain fully charged when the electricity failed in the upcoming snow storm. That is to say, I too was taken in by the mass hysteria, and willing to make any sacrifice to avoid the consequences of last year’s snow!

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one of my friends recently complained after seeing my dining room table on the blog without its customary bottle of whisky. So here you are, two bottles, and my tablet squeezed in, on the bottom right.

Dare I mention that the anti-climax was more than a little disappointing? A special train shuttle had been scheduled to ferry tourists from the ‘House of the Rising Sun’ village to Jerusalem every 20 minutes after the highways would all be frozen. The cellular companies invested heavily in new equipment to avoid the embarrassment of a breakdown in service. And drivers were asked to abandon the public avenues and thoroughfares so that emergency vehicles could administer to those incapacitated by the storm. All the supermarkets increased their wares by seven fold, and the customers did not disappoint. The sale of gas heaters would have topped all peaks of the last ten years had not department stores run out of those heaters to sell. We whipped ourselves into a frenzy… and then… nothing went wrong. Each of us felt whipped by the cruelty of nature. There was snow. But then there was rain that washed it away. All the preparations seemed wasted. It was a disaster.

going from here to there

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grass pushing up from under the snow

After more than a week of snow, cold weather, electric failures, and now ice, Janne and I decided to head for the south to enjoy a bit of warmth before the Sabbath; a trip aimed at rehabilitation after a rather difficult week. We charged up our camera batteries, took a bottle of water and few pieces of fruit, sunglasses and maps. My plan was to show Janne, a very interesting spot along the shore of the Dead Sea that I had last visited with my friend Bill and his Goddess. But then, we had arrived a little late… as the sun was going down, and it wasn’t easy to photograph. There are fascinating salt formations there, that in some cases look like sculpture. A subject for photography that had been touched upon, but not fully explored. I prepared a flash memory with some good music which we could plug into the car radio for pleasant listening as we tooled along the highway. We looked forward to a very pleasant day.

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green trees in winter

The grounds of our little village were still mostly covered with snow. But there were also spots where the snow had receded, leaving slippery ice. And just the day before, when venturing out to get a little morning exercise, I had walked with the help of my cane, hoping that three legs would guarantee stability. But now, driving down from the Judean hills to the Ellah valley, we left the snow and the ice behind us, and were filled with joy at the sight of green trees, and millions of grass shoots that had spontaneously appeared after soaking up the rain, eagerly rejoicing in life, and reaching for the sunlight. The emerging green was everywhere. And though a long winter lay ahead, there was that image of spring to excite our spirits. Just looking at the jagged and uneven edge of the forest as it approached the highway, the different formations of trees, and the bright green edges of hardy bushes, I was tempted to stop the car again and again, to photograph. But keeping in mind that we had plans, we kept moving.

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is it an environmental art installation or agriculture?

One of the problems of traveling, is how to get from one place to another, far away. Some people take a train, and other people take a plane. Since we live in a small country, most people take an intercity super highway that is a ribbon of cement or asphalt leading from one place to the next with sturdy fences or bushy foliage at the sides to keep the traveler from getting distracted. But if the traveler is like me, and likes to take the side roads and the back roads… likes to drive real slow, the better to see the landscape, to ride a donkey, or even sometimes to travel on foot, then there’s always the danger that he’ll find new worlds just a few feet from home, and never discover that the world isn’t flat and you don’t actually fall of the ledge into the great abyss. That’s why they used to put blinders around the eyes of horses years ago. And that’s why they put up those big fences along the fast highways today, with all the commercials on them, It’s a dilemma. Should we go fast or slow?

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Janne photographing

So that’s what happened. After withstanding temptation a few times, with all the determination of people who wants to get somewhere… we saw more and more sights that just couldn’t be ignored, as we traversed the landscape from mountains to the plains, and then to desert environment. And here and there we did take a stop… did walk around a little lake… did investigate a few trees… did strike up a conversation with a couple of lizards… and then it was time for lunch. After all, you can’t just gobble up the universe with your eyes. You need something to put under your belt. And this being winter, after feasting on humus and beans and a few falafel balls, and chips and salads and schwarma slices on a plate, and then lubricating the digestion of all these delicacies with a couple of beers at a workers’ diner in a hilltop city of the northern Negev, we happened to notice that the shadows were getting longer. That was just about the time I was saying to Janne that it was a shame to leave such a beautiful city without documenting the imaginative design of the city center, and the wonderful characters who occupied it.

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green sprouts at a lake along the highway

This was after taking a long look at an orthodox Jew in traditional garb biking through the central plaza whistling ‘Home On The Range’, and then watching another fellow who looked like he’d been whisked out of some city in India by aliens, and then set walking in that same place… he walked to the middle of the plaza where he stopped and became fixated on his own shoes… giving them some thought before he became unimaginable still, just the edges of his gray beard rustling in the desert breeze… It certainly looked like it should be photographed…

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an orthodox Jew on a bike

What were we to do? If we we’d document the urban splendor here, what chance was there, that we’d see the salt formations? On the other hand… if we were to continue our journey, we might very well get there after dark, too late to photograph it, without having photographed the city we were now exploring. After discussing the pros and cons, we decided that we’d have to make another trip soon, to cover all the wonderful opportunities that we’d missed along the way, and continued on to the Dead Sea.

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a view of desert town Arad

On reaching our destination, however, we had more than a little trouble finding the object of our interest. It was quickly getting dark. And though we went along the shore, first to the south and then to the north… we just didn’t find those salt formations. The Dead Seas has been going through a lot of changes in the past few years. Who knows if those salt flats didn’t move inward towards the sea center, and was no longer visible from the shore. ‘Maybe it’s our mistake to make plans at all. Might it not be better to just let our eyes lead us, and enjoy ourselves wherever we go,’ I said to Janne. ‘No’, she said, ‘If you don’t make plans at all, you never get anywhere. But at the same time, we want to go with the flow. We want to be sensitive, and enjoy every step along the way’. And with that in our pocket, we headed north, all the way to the Lido for some coffee before we’d conclude our journey, going home.

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a colorful scene at the Dead Sea

At the Lido, we ordered two cups of coffee and a cupcake. The handsome Arab behind the counter delivered our order with style. ‘That’ll be 22 shekels’ he said, ‘including VAT… But no smile included’
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‘Very sweet of you to include the VAT in the price of the coffee, we answered. But why no smile?’ He explained himself with serious aplomb. ‘We Palestine people were living our day to day life most innocently, when suddenly the authorities started pouring Styrofoam insulation on our heads from up above. Then they turned off the heat till we were shivering in our boots, and then the electricity went off, and our cars got stuck, and our goats got moody. Life is just intolerable.’

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a hint of spring at the start of winter

‘What?’ I asked, did it snow here? In the lowest altitude in Israel?’ Actually, the dead Sea is not just the lowest point in Israel. It is the lowest dry land in the world, being 427 meters below sea level. But he was unfazed by my question. ‘No, this didn’t happen here’, he said. ‘I’m talking about my cousins further north. But you know, we Palestinians like to stick together’. I looked him in the eyes and smiled. ‘I heard there were a few Jews caught in the snowstorm too,’ I said.
‘There might have been’, he admitted. But then, the electric company probably fixed their electricity before they fixed ours. It’s out and out racism. The world will hear about it’. And then he smiled too. ‘If you want sugar’, he added, ‘I’ll tell you where it’s hidden’.

‘No thanks,’ I said. ‘We take our coffee without sugar’.

after the storm

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on the way to buy cat food

Blue skies after the storm, but still very cold. The streets were frozen today, and walking or driving was difficult.

dancing in the snow

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from the kitchen window by Janne

Here in the little village, outside of Jerusalem, we are enjoying our first snow storm of the year. It came as something of a surprise to me. Though we were warned. The weather reports referred to a storm, with winds of up to 100 km per hour, but there was only passing mention of ‘light snow’ and rain. And we’ve often been warned in the past. These warnings aren’t taken very seriously. But of course, the reality of any situation, makes a very different impression than the discussion that comes beforehand. During the night we were informed of hundreds of people who were rescued from their cars on the streets of Jerusalem. This morning, we were told of more than 2000. Roads and highways have been blocked by snow. Stranded people are brought to refuge stations that have been set up. Diapers and warm milk are provided for the babies Now we hear that driving is prohibited in Jerusalem and in the nearby villages.

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on our front lawn

Electricity is no longer working. The home in which I am presently living is heated by natural gas. But as it turns out, the gas furnace is controlled by electricity, so that doesn’t work either. And though the sun has come out… somewhere… and I can see beautiful snow filled landscapes through the window, it was so dark this morning, inside, that I was forced to use a battery powered electric lamp in order to write on my battery powered computer. Fortunately, I also have a radio that works on a battery, and so can continue to be amused by news of the emergency situation. I won’t bend the truth. I’m enjoying every minute of this adventure. There is something very exciting about watching all of our excellent ‘state of the art’ conveniences fold under the pressure of nature. Trees have fallen down, And the electrical grid has failed. Covered with blankets, we watch the storm through our windows, drinking tea prepared on our gas burner. We have bread, We have water, It looks like we’ll have no problem lasting through the storm.

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Bonnie trudges through the snow by Janne

Yet though this isn’t a tragedy, many of our local citizens can’t help but wonder why it is that in other countries, say in northern Europe, they’re able to provide normal services while covered for months by a blanket of snow, here everything has come to a standstill after only a couple of days of snow. And the answer is relatively simple. Every locality provides answers to the common problems of that locality. If we had snow for long stretches of time, there’s no question we would build the necessary devices to deal with it. But since it only comes a few times each year, it’s easier to look at it as a temporary inconvenience and not employ all the means available, for that costs money. If the town fathers were asked to decide whether to invest in heavy machinery and structural improvements in order to weather proof the town, or to spend the money on fireworks for Independence Day, you can be sure that they would prefer the fire works. But now that a lot of people have found themselves stuck on the streets, one hears complaints.

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a winter scene by Janne

On the other hand, a parallel question is why people in our country get such a kick out of the snow while others see it as no more than a nuisance? The answer to that is that people can find glee in an unusual event, but grow weary of standard difficulties. It’s quite popular for people living outside of Jerusalem to make their way to our mountain top city to celebrate the winter weather, and introduce their children to the craft of building snow men. All of which reminds us that just a little goes a long way, and that what is rare is precious.

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a village lane

Once again a reminder that in this age of ‘two for the price of one’ we are losing our appreciation for the value of things. We have too much plenty around us. We’re becoming insensitive. We’re taking more and more for granted, and focusing on short term desires; allowing commercial interests to influence our choices in life. I can’t help but feel joy at having been reduced to basics by this storm. With many layers of clothing, and wearing a jacket inside, I sit here in my usual writing spot, in the dining corner of Janne’s kitchen. It will be a challenge to post this latest edition to the blog. But as you know, I’m both conservative and methodical. I would be unhappy were I not able to keep up with my weekly post. So I have two laptops lines up on the kitchen table, and when the battery of one becomes exhausted, I plan to move on to the second one. The post itself will be sent by cellular modem. The wifi isn’t working because the electricity is off. But if it turns out that cellular communications are down as well, you will only see these efforts after the storm.

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the tree I was photographing

Janne and I got pleasantly wet and cold while taking a walk around the neighborhood yesterday. Bonnie the dog would stop from time to time to do a short rendition of the ‘twist’ in order to lighten the load of snow that continuously covered her. And both Janne and I had cameras with us and recorded familiar environment, transformed by the weather to beautiful wintry scenes. And now, as I write my blog post, she is preparing for the upcoming Sabbath by producing a hot soup, the ritual Sabbath challah bread, and an apple pie with the limited means at her disposal. Even though the local supermarket is no longer supplied because of the blockage of the intercity highway, we will be enjoying all the delights of the Sabbath. It’s almost too good to be true.

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Dancing in the Snow by Janne

While on our walk, Janne took a shot of me, enthusiastically taking a picture of a snow covered tree. She called her picture, ‘Dancing In The Snow’, and I have adopted that title for this blog post. What a pleasure to dance out our appreciation of nature. Our national public radio station concluded it’s news roundup with the advice, “Don’t go out if you don’t have to”. My answer: This is the time to go out and marvel at nature. And remember, with all of our genius, we’re just a fly sitting on an elephant’s ear. Have a beautiful weekend.