by Ze’ev Orenstein – originally published by Times of Israel
Despite some wishful thinking on the part of Jerusalem’s municipality, the children knew. There would be no school in Jerusalem on Thursday, and likely not on Friday either, with the heaviest December snow storm hitting Israel since 1953 blanketing the city. At least for one day – and maybe two, “Yerushalayim shel lavan,” (Jerusalem of White) belonged to the young, and the young at heart. (In Israel, there seems to be an implicit understanding as to which holidays are meant to be celebrated for two days, and which only for one).
Watching Israelis try to cope with snow is not only entertaining but serves as a reminder of the innovative spirit of the nation of Israel. In Israel, most people don’t have ice scrapers, snow shovels or other tools to clean snow and ice off their cars, sidewalks and driveways. Instead, one can find people using bathroom squeegees (which one only seems to find in Israel) to accomplish the same task.
As it snows perhaps once a year, if that often in Jerusalem, and rarely in any great accumulation, most people don’t have snow boots in which to get around. As an alternative, one finds people walking through the snow with plastic bags over their shoes. Umbrellas, no match against the gusts of wind, for many, became walking sticks.
This seemed reminiscent of Israel, during the 1920?s – 1950?s. With minimal agricultural background, Jews who had returned to their historic homeland, were somehow able to make the desert of nearly 2,000 years bloom, draining malaria ridden swamps. With a small, and outdated arsenal, the army of the fledgling Jewish State was somehow able to repulse seven Arab armies bent on Israel’s destruction, though both out-manned and outgunned.
The reminiscing continued, as the snow kept falling. As one walked towards the Old City of Jerusalem, on hilltops and behind cars, were children hunkered down in fortified positions waiting to pelt any car or passerby with a barrage of snowballs. This trend continued within the Old City. From rooftops and alleyways, one needed to be on constant lookout – not for danger – but for children hiding just around the corner or on the rooftop above waiting for you to cross into their line of sight. And yet, as the Western Wall finally entered into sight, no snowballs were to be seen, and a sense of overwhelming astonishment at seeing the Kotel covered in snow seemed to envelop all.
June 7th, 1967. Israeli forces fought their way through the Old City. Fierce fighting raged through alleyways and rooftops. Yet, in an instant, everything seemed to fade to the background. “Har Habayit beyadeinu!” (“The Temple Mount is in our hands!”) Israeli paratroopers had liberated the Temple Mount and, from there, the Western Wall. No longer were their facial expressions those of hardened soldiers, instead replaced with the innocent and astonished look of a child whose greatest dreams had just been realized and yet could not believe it was actually happening.
So, what is it that makes snow in Jerusalem so magical?
The secret of the snow of Jerusalem is also the secret of the Jewish people and the Jewish State of Israel. We are a People and a state built upon a history that defies logic, full of events that simply weren’t supposed to happen.
Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, represents a revolution unparalleled by any other in history. No other social, economic or political upheaval has ever attempted to ingather a scattered nation from the ends of the earth, revive a dead language to everyday use and liberate a homeland from under a mighty world empire, while at the same time attempting to build a moral society that will set an example of justice and morality for mankind.
That said, the glass doesn’t always appear to be half-full here in Israel.
Whether it’s the Iranian nuclear threat; Israel’s increasing international isolation; the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians; or the seeming lack of unity within Israeli society, there is more than enough to cause even the biggest optimist to wince.
But before one is overcome with pessimism, let us not forget the secret of the snow of Jerusalem.
It is a snow that has the power to turn even the most serious of grown-ups into children once again; to wash away the stress and tension of everyday life, replacing it with smiles and the sounds of laughter. The snow of Jerusalem reminds us that just because something isn’t meant to happen, it doesn’t mean that it won’t; that sometimes the majority doesn’t get it right, and when it comes to Israel and the Jewish People, they usually don’t.
Why is the snow of Jerusalem so special?
Simply because it defies logic and shouldn’t happen – and that’s exactly the way it has always been for Israel and the Jewish people.
Or, in the words of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, ”In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”