December 20, 2013

A Vilde Chaya Storm

Last week I wrote about ‘the storm.’ I wrote this last post on a Friday afternoon sitting in Ra’anana where hailstones were the most dramatic weather activity we saw. The radio and TV turned off as Shabbat came in and we battened down the hatches in preparation for a very rainy and dreary Shabbat. 
Hail Catching: a unique, highly competitive Ra'anana sport.

We snuggled in blankets, read and relaxed. It was actually very restful. The sun even made a brief appearance on Saturday afternoon, giving us enough time to take a long walk.
Ra'anana's version of 'the storm.'

Little did we know that many parts of the country experienced weather of epic proportions that became THE WINTER STORM of the century. Like hurricanes and tornadoes, it was even given the name Alexa, although many native Israelis thought ‘vilde chaya,’ ‘gevalt’ and ‘oy’ would be more appropriate names.
The Golan after 'the storm.'

Snow fell, making many major highways impassable. Thousands of people were stranded on roads, including families with small children who sat for hours in the freezing cold. Many abandoned their cars and had to be saved by the army.

The heavy wet snow then caused tree branches to fall on power lines across the country, plunging thousands of family into cold and darkness over Shabbat.

In Safed, where they received almost two feet of snow, roof caved in from the weight of the snow. Trees fell on cars and on homes. Electricity was out, causing thousands of residents to sit in the cold and dark.

A friend of mine who lives in Tsfat looked out to Meiron. The normally verdant green mountain was cloaked in white. It was beautiful yet eerie as she did not see one light twinkling from the town of Meiron and the surrounding moshavim; everyone sat for days shivering without power. The road to Tsfat was impassable until Monday. And schools in Jerusalem remained closed for a few days after the storm as tow trucks removed countless abandoned cars from highways.

On the plus side, emergency vehicles were ready to help. Families with electricity took in those who were cold and hungry. For a country without proper snowplows and for citizens who do not own shovels or snow tires or snow boots or toboggans, we coped quite well. 

As Jerusalem blogger Mitch Ginsburg aptly wrote, eight inches of snow is, according to a “Middle-East-dog-year calibration, equivalent to, say, 34 inches in Toronto, 21 in NYC and two in Cairo." 
Israelis learn to love snow.

I am sitting writing this blog in Toronto in a warm, centrally heated home, looking out at snow, snow and more snow.  Homes are so well heated here, you could live indoors in a bathing suit and be toasty. In Israel, our poorly heated home is often colder inside than out, forcing me to wear a jacket indoors all day long.

Being in Toronto now, I can see that this city is 100% committed to bad weather.  There is a storm watch channel constantly updating commuters. Everyone has thick boots with treads, Arctic-grade jackets and state-of-the-art snow tires.  So hot, sunny Israel with its date palms and orange groves gets top marks for dabbling in the challenging world of the winter storm.
Wintry Toronto.

December 13, 2013

The Storm

As early as Sunday, Israelis started talking about ‘the storm.’ I happened to be hiking last Sunday and as I walked along the sea, I saw distinct signs that the weather was changing. The normally docile Mediterranean was black, waves were surging, frothing churning. Dark, ominous clouds gathered and the rain soon started to pelt down.

We were undeterred, although we were the only hikers out on the trail and finished the hike unscathed save for one small downpour and an incredible Oz-style rainbow.

The rain continued to fall and Israelis chattered on about ‘the storm.’ I read that the army was on call and emergency vehicles were on alert.

This is ‘the storm?’ I asked myself on Wednesday, the day they predicted would feel the brunt of its fury.  For a Canadian, this could be a nasty spring day in May. And if you are Russian, a light coating of snow is bikini weather.

My husband wore shirtsleeves to a meeting and received stares of disbelief. Every Israeli was wrapped in multiple layers of fleece and wool. They all wore boots and a wool hat and scarf became standard indoor apparel.

However, the temperatures suddenly fell across the country and in the higher altitudes, the rain turned to snow. Lots of snow.

While we in the center of Israel were pummeled by intermittent heavy showers, Safed, Hermon, the Shomron, Jerusalem, and even parts of the desert, were cloaked in snow.  Schools closed, roads were shut down and access to Jerusalem was closed.
With Shabbat approaching, Jerusalem is under a sort of weather siege and emergency crews are trying to restore order. As there are no snowplows, bulldozers clear the roads. And as many people cannot get out of their homes, emergency vehicles drive around delivering challah. Ambulance drivers giving out challah? Only in Israel.Check out the twitter pic here.

The army has set up a call center to organize Shabbat meals for those who are stranded. Residents with electricity are inviting those who have cold, dark homes to spend Shabbat with them. People who are secular will dine with religious. The cold will not deter us; it will empower us to create warmth and unity among everyone here.

December 6, 2013

The Sacred Olive

December is the season of olive oil. And in Israel, we feel this on a spiritual and physical level.

Spiritually speaking, we all light our menorahs with olive oil. Wicks are placed in glass that is filled with thick, rich oil. The flames that are fed by the oil blazes create a long-lasting golden, warm light. Here in Israel, we try to place the menorahs on the street outside our homes to fulfill the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle of Chanukah.

December is also the season to replenish our supply of freshly pressed olive oil. The olives here were harvested in October and November. They were picked, sorted, then taken to the press where they were crushed.

Living in the north of Israel where there are an abundance of olive groves, we are able to purchase the most fresh, delicious olive oil there is. Tasting this oil, one cannot help but become a connoisseur; this year’s oil tastes like we are eating real olives with a slight picant side note.

Today we went to the Moshav Safsoufa at the foot of Mount Meiron and purchased a jerry can of oil. This is 17.5 liters of pure delight that will last us till next summer.

It is a privilege to buy directly from Simcha, who personally pressed the oil. I think about the countless bottles of oil stacked on supermarket shelves and consider the impersonal mass manufacturing, labeling, branding, packaging, marketing and transportation involved before the oil even reaches the store.  

And then I look at the cute little jerry can standing before me on a gravel driveway in front of an old stone house nestled in a tiny moshav at the base of a mountain. Such a small purchase makes me feel satisfied and complete.

Simcha, the olive guy, explains that it is made from the suri olive tree, is pressed in a place called Yogev press and is 100% organic. However, this oil surpasses organic. These trees were never watered by farmers, which means they have been untouched by man until the olives are actually picked.

There is a certain purity and simplicity in the fact that before me sits a product that has had little interference by man. And when we take man out of the equation, I always feel a distinct spiritual connection. 

In fact, the olive tree is a very special and miraculous plant. It can live for over 2,000 years and prefers a scorching hot, arid climate and poor soil. It is no mistake that it is considered sacred in many religions and has come to represent peace, purity, power and glory.

Last Wednesday, on the last night of Chanukah, I walked around the old city of Tsfat with my camera and watched the oil lamps glowing in the menorahs, flickering against the ancient stone. 

The flames have sputtered out for now and the spiritual aspect of Chanukah may be over, but I have a renewed appreciation of the jerry can of oil sitting on my kitchen floor.