My father likes to say that snow is a major generational divide. Does the fluffy falling stuff ignite in you a desire to run out and play in the cold, or do you give a little shiver and hug yourself tight? If you’re among the former, then you’re probably under 20. If you are among the latter, well, there is a reason why Florida is filled with “snowbirds”!
If this generational litmus test holds true for Baltimore, then it certainly does for Yerushalayim. The climate here is more temperate, with both heat in the summer and cold in the winter less extreme. Snow falls only once every three to four years, and usually just dusts the mountains. The city is not equipped to deal with a snowfall of any significance. (Compared to Yerushalayim, Baltimore City snow removal squads are ski resort managers!) And of course, the kids rarely get to play in the snow. What makes it even more precious to the little ones is that, even when it “sticks,” it tends to melt away within the day. And so, just the prediction of snow is enough to send the emotions of both generations to extremes.
This year, reactions to predicted snow were even more pronounced than usual. This is because of the “blizzard of the century,” which occurred almost exactly one year ago. Although it was predicted, even the wildest estimations fell far short of the actual accumulation. We had about 15 inches, and it didn’t melt quickly, either. Here in Har Nof, our bus service was not fully restored for a whole week! Many were without power or heat. Stores were closed, and were inaccessible anyway. Few had shovels to clear the walkways; most of the rest wouldn’t have known which end to hold even if they had one! And so, when the word snow was mentioned this year, the city flew into a flurry of activity.
As the hype grew, someone was kind enough to post regular updates on the Har Nof email newsgroup from an Anglo meteorologist who now lives in Israel. Here is part of the first, from early in January:
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Well, for many, this went over like a lead weather balloon. Beginning on Monday, two days before the expected fall, lines in some Yerushalayim supermarkets were half the length of the store, with a wait of two hours. They ran out of many basics, such as bread and diapers. Shovels were one of the first items to be sold out.
Our kids called the weather hotline about three times a minute, only to be met with a busy signal more often than not – presumably due to about a million other kids doing the same thing! Shiurim, community events, government offices, schools, and midterm exams were all cancelled in advance, in fright of the forecast. Some stores bravely advertised that they would remain open, come snow or high water. Automated calls from the local municipalities advised on everything from hotline emergency numbers to requests for help from those who own four-wheel-drive-vehicles to supervised snow-play locations and hours. Everywhere you went, snow was the topic, and tense expectation was thick in the air.
The winter had been quite mild until then. On Monday, the temperature began to drop. Late Tuesday brought extremely high winds – very unusual in their own right – sweeping through the city, along with a sandstorm. Our kids were so excited that they had difficulty dealing with their anticipation. At times, they had to resort to humor. On Monday, Eliyahu, six years old, had a bright idea. “It’s supposed to snow on Yom Revi’i, right? So let’s go to sleep, and then wake up, and then go to sleep again. And when we wake up it’ll be time for the snow!” Our oldest, Mordechai the bar-mitzva bachur, had an idea before going to sleep one night. With a smile, Mordechai told us that he was sure that he would see snow upon awakening, as he pressed the “snowz” button on his alarm clock! due to being inundated with calls from parents and kids alike – set up a hotline. This gave our kids something else to do besides calling the weather hotline, and they hap
Our boys’ cheder – presumably pily alternated. Aside from the technical details of whether or not school would take place and, if so, when, the menahel (principal) used the hotline as a medium to speak to the boys.
In his first recording, the menahel challenged his young charges to find the Torah’s very first reference to snow. It was in that week’s parshah of Shemos! The kids got it on the spot, scoffing about how easy it was. (I’m not telling.) He then spoke inspiringly about the mitzvos the kids could do at home that they were unable to do in school, such as being kovea itim (studying) on their own, kibud av va’em (honoring parents), and vitur le’achim (yielding to siblings). Our kids smirked at this message. Uh huh ... Mordechai surmised that the reason for the question on the parshah was really so that the kids would learn at least something while at home. A later message asked where the Torah uses a word in parshas Devarim that means snow in two other languages, as explained by Rashi. (I’m not telling this one either.)
Here is Barry again, on Wednesday morning:
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Well, nothing fell in the morning. The winds continued. As the storm developed, we experienced great sheets of hail, sleet, rain, thunder, and lightning. It snowed furiously – but briefly. “It’s raining snow!” exclaimed the kids. “It’s snowing cats and dogs!” (Lack of experience severely curtailed their snow-linked English vocabulary.) There was no accumulation.
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Well, the answer was that temperatures were indeed freezing, or thereabouts, which was much colder than last year. And the storm raged on, dumping huge amounts of water and rain on us. But there was no snow. Apparently, a slight change of a half-degree and a minor difference in the direction of the wind there made all the difference between white and wet. The kids even had school on Thursday! Interestingly, only between a quarter and a third of the kids made it, and about half of the rebbeim. We suspect that it had more to do with dashed hopes than the inclement weather.
Barry finally got one right:
Friday’s event is still highly probable and temperatures are suppose to be even colder than this storm. In terms of snow amounts, one might estimate 2 inches in Jerusalem….
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On Friday afternoon, a peaceful snow fell. Big flakes swirled downward and piled upon each other, much to the delight of the children. It continued to fall intermittently through Friday night, and two to three inches accumulated by Shabbos morning. Of course, it all melted away halfway through the day. Although most Israeli poskim rule that snow is not muktza, it is definitely assur (prohibited) to form it into snowballs or any other shape. Twelve-year-old Yitzchok noted that it was a real nisayon (trial) that the snow fell on Shabbos. “Bechasdei Hashem,” Yitzchok said, “we had some time to play with the snow before Shabbos started!”
Moshe and Shira (nee Schleifer) Cohen are originally from Baltimore