By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Having seen snow in Siberia, Sweden and Canada I was never impressed by what they described as a snowfall in Jerusalem. Though there had been some snow once or twice during the winters we spend here. It’s different this time: they forecast up to half-a-meter of the white stuff. It started with heavy rain the day before yesterday, and yesterday it started to snow. It’s heavy today and is only expected to taper off late tomorrow
When we arrived two weeks ago, it was still unseasonably warm, now the city has come to a virtual standstill because of the winter. It feels like a siege because the two major roads that link Jerusalem to the rest of the country are closed. People are advised not to use their cars. Many visitors are stranded, including six buses with students from a secondary school in the Tel Aviv region who came to explore the treasures of the capital. Others had to be rescued by helicopter.
Perhaps having learnt from Mel Lastman when he was mayor of Toronto, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat has called in the army to help. Though the municipality has vehicles and other equipment for snow removal, these are obviously insufficient for what is needed today.
The city has opened temporary shelters, including in Binyaney Ha’uma, the convention center at the entrance to Jerusalem. The media report acts of great kindness on the part of Jerusalemites when they encounter visitors and locals in need. It’s a siege mentality at its best.
For a change, the weather has become the main topic in every newscast. Even yet another visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry has been linked to it as he and his entourage find it difficult to get around and are likely to have problems in getting out of the country (on their way to Asia, I believe).
Fredzia and I have been under virtual house arrest for the last two days and, though we’re invited to Shabbat meals nearby, we may have to stay at home until Sunday. Mercifully, we’ve enough food, the heating is working and there’s electric power. In the past couple of days the paper arrived in the morning but that’s less likely to happen today. Television and the computer keep us in touch with the world.
Of course, the bad weather isn’t confined to Israel. In some places, especially in Syrian refugee camps, the conditions add more tragedy to the existing tragedy.
In Israel not all the news is bad. The Sea of Galilee, which is the country’s main water reservoir, is rising and Mount Hermon in the North will soon open its ski season. And, of course, many schools are closed which may cause problems for working parents but is said to bring joy to their children.
The term siege is particularly apt on this day for, according to the Jewish calendar, today is the Tenth Day of the month of Tevet commemorated in many quarters as a (minor) fast day to mark the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians some 2600 years ago which led to the destruction of the First Temple.
We pray that the present siege will have less ominous consequences, but no doubt it’ll be remembered by Israelis – particularly Jerusalemites – for a long time to come.
Being in Jerusalem today helps me to remember that we spend time here for other reasons than to escape the harsh Canadian winter.