Snow and memory


It’s snowing in Jerusalem. I know this through the magic of the Internet, of social media where I see friends posting photos.

I grew up in snow, in Montreal, and loved it, but I grew to appreciate it in Jerusalem. Here in DC, all it’s become is the occasional pain in the neck. And back. And parental vocal chords. ("Would one of you kindly help me out here?")

So as much as I dread its arrival on my front step, I miss it now in Jerusalem.

Below the jump is a column I wrote about Jerusalem snow, for a shortlived newspaper called the Nation, dated Feb. 13, 1989. (The column itself was called 972, and no one got it then. Now it names a whole online magazine.)



"This is the fourteenth alert we’ve had this year, and this time it looks as if it may stick."

The man in front of the topographical map glances around the room, half-filled with uniforms, and fleshed out by civil defense volunters and journalists. He begins to list the military vehicles on alert.

A reporter raises her hand and asks, "Excuse me, I’m not familiar with the term … unimog?"

The speaker smiles, and proceeds to describe a snowblower.

This particular alert, which involves the fire department, the ministry of commerce and industry, the IDF, the police and Egged as well as civil defense workers, is against the soft white menace lurking above Jerusalem’s golden skyline.

The atmosphere at the meeting, in fact, is buoyant, as opposed to the grimness wich must inform an alert aganist an emergency encounter of the human kind.

The director of the Jerusalem Emergency Unit, Aharon Sarig, apologizes for hoping that it won’t snow. He is not optimistic, however, much to the delight of his listeners.

"Temperatures are going to fall below freezing tonight, and stay there,

One character shouts out, "Just don’t call me before 1 am, I’m going to be watching the NBA final."

Here the renowned (but all but invisible recently) Israeli spirit of ahva, common cause, settles through the room. A representative of Egged stands up to declare that 10 buses have had chains put on their tires in case of especially heavy snowfall, seemingly oblivious to the meeting taking place in Tel Aviv at the very same moment which will decide how his salary and pension check will be cut to save the srtuggling transport monlith.

Outside the central Jerusalem office, the atmosphere is more subdured. In the Atara cafe on the midrehov, business is down. "People don’t even come in to warm up," complains the proprietress.

Across the way, the florist also complains business is slow, and the gift shop owner next door is eagerly pulling out a variety of menorahs for a bored-looking tourist.

Back to Aharon Sarig, who seems to be the only person remembering the political reality lurking beneath the carpet of snow.

"We will service emergencies in both parts of Jerusalem," he says none-too-subtly stressing the word both.

It is precisely this reality which welcomes the snow. A straw poll of the 400-plus days of the intifada will demonstrate that miserable weather did its bit for keeping the angry by the home fires, dampening the spread of hatred.

Whether or not Jerusalemites  are consciously aware of the statistics, they are emotionally aware of the softness implicit in snowfall.

For one night, just once in a while, it’s all they need.

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