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Yerushalayim shel Lavan: snow falls on Jerusalem

(Pixabay photo)

For the first time in four years, Jerusalem was blanketed in snow this week. And for a brief while, the city was transformed into Yerushalayim shel Lavan. Although the country gets a sprinkling of snow most winters, real storms are still a fascination for its residents – and its fans.

Haaretz reported that Jerusalem had some 150 snowplows and bulldozers on alert and 25 tonnes of salt to prevent slippery roads. But I am certain the news from the Jerusalem Post was far more important to the capital’s thousands of students: school closed because of the storm.


Jerusalem in snow – January 2019

The best place to start your Israeli snow tour is on YouTube. I particularly like a video from a previous Israeli storm which demonstrates the universal reflex for people experiencing their first snowfall: trying to catch as many flakes on your tongue as possible.

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).”

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 Israeli 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 three inches. Or zero. And the drop from the very small pre-widened shoulder of the road went in one direction: straight down.”


Mount Hermon promotional video

Of course Israelis can taste snow every winter – if they put in a few hours and travel north. 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. And how’s this for a claim to fame? PopularMechanics.com has named Mount Hermon one of the World’s 18 Strangest Ski Resorts.

It writes, “The Israeli Defence Forces maintain an observation post there, patrolled by the specially trained Alpine Unit. The military base is visible from the ski area, and certain sections of the mountain are restricted to IDF use.”

Actually, Israel 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.



Israel takes a snow day (2008)

Snow, of course, is not limited to the north. One industrious person has made an Israeli Snowfall Map which indicates where snow has fallen since 2007 – from the Golan to the Negev (yes, the Negev!)

But 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 [Celsius, 53 degrees Fahrenheit], 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 metre.” Here are photos from that remarkable storm including a genuine snowman.

Although this month’s storm made headlines, snow is not 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, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:9)

 And we can only imagine what an ancient Jerusalem looked like when King David was inspired to write these words. “He sends the snow like white wool; He scatters frost upon the ground like ashes.” (Psalms 147:16)


Sheleg al Iri (Snow over my City) sung by Ruhama Raz

Millennia later, snow still inspires the poet in the Holy Land. In 1976, Naomi Shemer wrote the song Sheleg al Iri (Snow over my City).


Snow over My City יריע על שלג
Snow over my city, resting all the night.


My love has gone to the warm lands.


Snow over my city, and the night is cold.


From the warm countries he will bring me a date.

שלג על עירי, כל הלילה נח.

אל ארצות החום אהובי הלך.

שלג על עירי, והלילה קר.

מארצות החום לי יביא תמר.


Snow over my city, resting like a tallit.

From the warm lands, what have you brought me?


Snow on my city, snow on my face.

And within the fruit are all my longings.

שלג על עירי, נח כמו טלית.
מארצות החום, מה הבאת לי.
על עירי, שלג על פני שלג.
ובתוך הפרי כל געגועי


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