National/World US/World News

Israel in snow

[media-credit name=”Hebrew Wikipedia” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]

The Golan's Mount Hermon

Just a week after the country’s most harrowing forest fire, much of Israel was blanketed with snow. Although the country gets a sprinkling of snow most winters, real storms are still a fascination for its residents – and its fans.

The best place to start your tour is at YouTube for videos [] and Flickr for photos. [] You’ll find hundreds of entries including a delightful video demonstrating the universal reflex for people experiencing their first snowfall: trying to catch as many flakes on your tongue as possible. []

The Golan’s Mount Hermon, home of Israel’s ski slope, is the only place that you might find snow throughout the winter. When it opened in 1969, mules were used to get up the hills. There are ski lifts now. Ski Hermon’s website has a couple of ski-cams, shots of the slopes and a snow depth report. []

Actually, Israeli DOES have a second ski hill, sort of. Ski Gilboa, situated on the historic mountain where King Saul met his demise as recounted in the Book of Samuel, boasts a year round ski hill – although this one is decked out with an artificial ski surface. []

Brian Blum admits that he doesn’t have a lot of experience driving in snow – and it showed when he tried to tough his way through an Israel storm a few years ago. The main Tel Aviv to Jerusalem road had been closed but he thought he knew better. He took the “alternate route” to get home. “And then visibility reduced to about 3 inches. Or zero. And the drop from the very small pre-widened shoulder of the road went in one direction: straight down.” Join Brian on his harrowing trek. []

Jerusalemite (and former Chicagoan) Joyce Schur says when snow hits, her city comes to a standstill. “People just want to stand around staring at it… [the] reason being because no one knows what to do with it! No one can figure out how to get it out of the way. … There’s also no such thing as ice scrapers or calcium chloride. The city’s municipal workers rush to the Super-Sol and grab big blue boxes of kosher salt for de-icing streets like Herzl (I am not exaggerating).” []

Can we ever expect to see a white Tel Aviv? Don’t hold your breath says Haaretz. “The Mediterranean’s temperature never drops below 12 degrees (53°F), even in extreme circumstances. Only an external cold wave could overcome the relatively warm winds from the sea – something that occurs once every 30 or 40 years. The elders of Tel Aviv remember (or perhaps not) the great snow of February 1950, which piled up to half a meter.” [] Here are photos from that remarkable storm including a snowman by the sea. [] The Hebrew Wikipedia article on Climate in Israel has a great section that highlights the country’s other big snowfalls. []

Although this month’s was a large storm, snow is nothing new to the Holy Land. Thousands of years ago the prophets were also moved by its beauty. It was King David who said to God in Psalm 51:9, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” []

Rabbi Boruch Leff has written two seemingly contradictory articles, The Mystical White Snow [] and Snow: The Dark Side. [] In them he points out that while snow has been described “as being an illuminating force that is tantamount to Spiritual Light”, Kabbalah has also compared snow to a barrier to holiness-associated Amalek, Israel’s arch-enemy. How can snow be both good and bad? Read the articles to understand how the rabbi bridges the dichotomy that is snow.

But back to King David for the final word. We can only imagine what an ancient Jerusalem looked like when he was inspired to write these words. “He sends the snow like white wool; He scatters frost upon the ground like ashes.” (Psalms 147:16) []

Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based website producer.

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