The historic snowstorm of 2013 has finally ended. All in all, our corner of Jerusalem (750 meters above sea level) got hit with 60 cm of snow over three days. Neighborhoods at a higher elevation (e.g., Mt Scopus and Gilo are both above 800 meters) got closer to 80 cm. The last time this much snow fell in Jerusalem was February 5, 1950 (50 cm). The last time a significant amount of snow fell this early in the year was December 15, 1878 (43cm). It is unusual for big snowstorms to hit Israel in December because the Mediterranean Sea is still relatively warm. The all-time Jerusalem snow record, since they began keeping records? February 9, 1920 - 98 cm! This is known as the "Snowstorm of Tel Hai" because it took place a few days (March 1) before the famous Battle of Tel Hai in which Joseph Trumpeldor was killed. This battle was the first major incident of the Arab Riots of 1920. Usually this considered the formal opening of the Arab-Israeli conflict which is still going on today. Wouldn't it be poetic if the end to this century long war were brought about by an extraordinarily plentiful snowfall just as its beginning was? Here is a picture of Jaffa Road from February 9, 1920.
Although it has been over 48 hours since the snow stopped falling and the temperature is currently 8 degrees C, much of the city is still paralyzed. Schools are closed for the fourth day. Lots of people are still without electricity. Public transportation is intermittent. The major problem? Ice. During the day the strong sun melts the snow (which for the most part has not been properly cleared) and at night it freezes again leaving the roads covered in a vicious sheet of ice. Without snow tires, there is simply no way to drive up a hill like the one pictured above, right outside my house. By 11am everything is pretty much melted and life goes on as normal until the sun sets at 4pm and the cycle starts over again. Until a real warm front of air moves in, it does not seem possible to break the cycle. The bigger problem behind all this is of course lack of equipment. The city does not have enough snow plows to clear small side streets like ours. Individuals do not own snow shovels with which to dig out their cars. Most people don't even own a decent pair of winter boots. It's a big dilemma which many politicians are discussing now. Does it make financial sense for Israel to spend big bucks preparing itself for 60 cm of snow even if this only happens once every 50 years?
I am Jonathan Lipnick, tour guide and educator specializing in Christianity and Judaism. In this blog I explore questions (historical, linguistic) that come up in the course of my teaching and reading.