Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Get My Drift?

“What’s the weather today, Abba?” my kids ask every morning throughout the winter. The ostensible reason for the question is to determine how to dress for the day. But there’s always a subtext.

Will this be the week it will finally snow?

It doesn’t snow all that often in Jerusalem. A few flurries once a year maybe. And a really big one only every seven years or so, say the meteorologists.

Kids who grow up in snowy climates take winter weather for granted.

“Yeah, it’s snowing again.” Yawn. The streets will be cleared in a few minutes and we’ll still have to go to school.

Not in Jerusalem. The city becomes completely paralyzed. Nothing moves. Roads are shut down completely. It’s like Yom Kippur with only kids and dogs on the street, except a whole lot colder.

Now, when people think of Israel, the last thing that usually comes to their mind is snow. This is supposed to be a desert. One that we made bloom, right?

True, it doesn’t snow in the desert. But not all of Israel is dry and rocky. Jerusalem, by contrast, is high up in the mountains.

I drive to and from Tel Aviv to work every day, and my commute home always reminds me of the steep pass that winds its way into Lake Tahoe from the California side. Lots of curves. A little bit treacherous. Stunningly beautiful.

While it snows all the time in the winter on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, Jerusalem’s altitude means that snow falls much more infrequently. But this week we finally had some of the white stuff. Even before it came down heavy, the schools panicked; class was out by 2:00 PM on Monday.

By Tuesday morning there was enough accumulation to have fun with. The kids were up at 5:00 AM staring out the window in awe. They had put on their coats and gloves before we even climbed out of bed. Merav came in to tell us she was going exploring with her friend Michal. Aviv took off on his own.

“Do you know exactly where Aviv went?” Jody asked as we stumbled into the kitchen. A sudden panic, an image of him face down in the snow, unable to get up. I raced my clothes on, ran outside ready to scour the neighborhood. And there he was, in a nearby park, making a snowman, and throwing snowballs with the neighborhood kids.

But as much as the kids adore the snow, I hate it. It’s just so darned inconvenient.

Sure, if I was a kid and school was cancelled, I’d be having a blast too. But I have to get to work. And during the big snow of 1998, I was traumatized.

I was attending a conference in Tel Aviv. My fledgling startup was presenting at a conference. We had wangled a heavily discounted booth and were making our first public debut anywhere. And then it started to snow in Jerusalem.

Now, I suppose I could have stayed over at some friends in Tel Aviv, borrowed some underwear and deodorant. But I like being in my own bed. With my own wife. So I headed home.

The radio was reporting that the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway was closed. The snow was too heavy. Or maybe it wasn’t that heavy but since the country doesn’t have any snowplows to speak of, the stuff wasn’t going anywhere.

However, the “alternate route” – Highway 443, which goes from Modi’in to Ramot – was still open. I decided to brave it. Keep in mind, this was a number of years ago, before the widened the road. Still, everything was going all right until I got close to Givat Ze’ev.

And then visibility reduced to about three inches. Or zero. And the drop from the very small pre-widened shoulder of the road went in one direction: straight down.

I don’t have a lot of experience in snow. But I’m pretty sure it’s not a good sign when your car is slipping and sliding around on the ice, when you pass buses flipped over in the middle of the road, when you see scores of people walking in meter-deep snow drifts from their abandoned cars to get home.

Thank God for cellphones. Jody stayed with me for the three hours it took me to go about five miles in this nightmare. There were times when other drivers whose cars had already skidded into oblivion physically guided my car when I could neither see nor steer. I truly wondered whether I would make it home alive that night.

But I did. And I missed the next day of the conference.

On the news in the morning, the Mayor announced, “We’re going to leave the snow on the ground for a few days for residents to enjoy it.”

In other words, since we don’t have any snow removal equipment, we can’t do much about it, so we’re going to spin this into a positive.

Thanks a lot, Mr. Mayor.

I think at this point you can understand why snow isn’t at the top of my hit parade. Let the kids enjoy it. I’ll stay inside, drink some hot cocoa and work virtually from home. Because it will be a snow day in the Negev before I go out in that stuff again.

If you get my drift.

All the main papers in Israel have pictures of the snow. Click here to see Haaretz's montage. Click here for pictures from the Jerusalem Post.

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