Monday, January 14, 2013

And finally, what we've all been waiting for.... Snowy Jerusalem

The prayers of a million Israeli children were answered this winter when the recent rain storms finally turned to snow, coating Israel's higher altitudes in a respectable blanket of white. The City of Gold morphed into the White City.

I can't remember a winter like this in Jerusalem for at least a decade. True, there have been a few dustings of snow, but not this much.

So we did what so many Israelis living in lower parts of the country did - we schlepped our kids up to the Holy City to see the snow. All along the roads leading to Jerusalem, as soon as the highway passed by even the smallest of grass verges at an elevation great enough to receive in the lightest of snow Israelis from warmer areas were parked haphazardly, usually with a gaggle of children in tow and frolicking in the stuff.

The entire journey to Jerusalem and within the city the pavements, parks, just about every empty patch of ground, had attracted groups of locals, young and old, playing in the snow or just enjoying the novelty of catching snowflakes on their tongues. An impressive selection of snowpeople lined the route, most of impressive of which was a neo-classical female nude under construction by a group of college students on a traffic circle near the Hebrew University campus. Venus de Milo rendered in snow.

We chose Mt Scopus for its views over the Old City and towards the desert and were rewarded with views of the continuing blizzard over the pine, cypress and olive groves down towards the ancient stone walls and domes of the heart of Jerusalem. Nothing like it.

Mt Scopus is a seam area between Arab and Jewish areas and on a snow day the area buzzed with pedestrians from both groups, along with a smattering of snow stranded tourists, their buses unable to negotiate the slippery streets, despite Jerusalem's fleet of snow ploughs.
View towards the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea at the edge of Jerusalem's Mt Scopus

We wandered with the other visitors enchanted at the novelty, pausing now and then when someone asked us to photograph a family portrait or a romantic twosome against the backdrop of Jerusalem's most recognisable landmark, prominent even in the swirl of falling snow.

For the most part Arabs, Jews and tourists enjoyed the magic cast by the snow together, the classic view of the city rendered foreign without its trademark sunshine and blue skies. The promenade at the edge of the Hebrew University campus was actually quite crowded despite the bitter cold and trecherous road conditions.

It wasn't all wintry cameraderie though. From time to time though at the edges of the neighbourhood or in more isolated spots along the promenade occasional gangs of Arab youths lobbed giant snow balls at passing Jewish vehicles. Not as dangerous or lethal as rocks, but the intent was clear from the faces of those doing the throwing. This was not in play.

Despite this though they didn't spoil the general atmosphere of good humour and wonder, by and large snow still brings out the better side of people in the Middle East.

Jerusalem light rail makes it way through the snow

Most snowball fun was in jest between Arabs and Jews

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Boundary between snowy Jerusalem and mostly clear Judean Desert

Edge of Jerusalem, view towards August Victoria

British Commonwealth War Cemetery dating back to the First World War

Mt Scopus British Commonwealth War Cemetery

Many proud Jerusalem trees were bowed and broken under the snow

Ramot Forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Water water everywhere

Just for perspective on all the floods and rain damage this week - much of Israel has had between 10-11 inches of rain, that's about what Katrina and Sandy dropped on most affected areas of the US. In the US they were predicting disaster if "Sandy drops 10 inches of rain".

Here in Israel many places have had flooding and storm damage, mostly minor, but in a few areas so bad people had to be evacuated in boats, their homes totally submerged. For the most part though it's been more a case of disruption and inconvenience rather than disaster. Not to dismiss financial losses lightly, but the Ayalon stream overflowing its banks and shutting down the adjacent highway and railway line for most of day or the flooding of a mall in Modi'in is not good, but there are worse things.

Doesn't mean that here in Israel some local councils here weren't negligent in preparing adequately, but this is a once in two decades or more storm for much of Israel and the concentrated intensity of the rainfall is far from your typical winter rainstorm - there have been years recently when we haven't had this much rain all winter. According to our balcony weather station we've had half the annual rainfall in 5 days.

Personally we're suffering from that most typical of Israeli problems, damp seeping through to some of our rooms because our roof is the balcony of the flat upstairs and it seems they haven't maintained the sealing on their tiles. Not much we can do about it until we get drier weather but it does mean that just as we're facing some of the coldest weather we've had in a few years now we can't use our airconditioner to heat our place because the ceiling wiring might be damp. Good thing for thermals.

So far no coastal surges but I gather the snow is still on its way. Kids can hardly contain their excitement. As J put it "if we get to play in the snow it'll be worth all these days cooped up at home because of the rain..."