JERUSALEM – For the most part, I don’t check the weather in Israel. As it only rains in the winter, at least fifty percent of the year has a forecast of “warm and sunny.” Then the winter season comes and we literally pray for rain. As a desert country, we are very dependent on the winter rainfall. Every once in a while, Israel is treated to a few flakes of snow. This year, however, we got a snowstorm that rivaled some of the worst that I experienced while growing up in Rhode Island.
It was difficult to miss news about the impending storm. People posted about it all over social media. Like an oncoming wave, friends in communities just outside of Jerusalem began making regular updates – “Flakes of snow!” and “It’s starting to accumulate!” Whatever they posted, soon began taking place in Jerusalem. As the snow rose higher and higher, there was even foreshadowing that created an ominous anticipation – “The power just went out.”
For Israelis, the snow was a unique treat. Many people took to the streets, going for casual strolls and photographing their children in the snow. A friend of mine said that she overheard one child ask her mother, “How do you make a snowball?” The mother replied, “The same way you make a matzo ball.”
On the morning of Friday the 13th, I awoke to see more snow and more updates on social media – stranded motorists were concerned that they wouldn’t make it home to their families before Shabbat and areas just outside of Jerusalem experienced a minor earthquake! On top of that, Friday marked the 10th of Tevet – the Jewish fast day commemorating Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. Could that day possibly get any crazier? The answer, we learned, was “yes.”
To observant Jews, much of Friday is dedicated to Shabbat preparation. Among other things, that means making sure that all of the food is bought and cooked prior to the start of Shabbat, and lights we need are left on for the duration of Shabbat. Among my roommates and me, we share several years worth of practice in making sure that everything is ready in time for Shabbat. That’s is, we’re proficient in that pre-Shabbat time management when supermarkets are open and we have electricity.
At noon on Friday, the power went out. We began strategizing. How would we cook the chicken without an electric oven? In the end, we fried it on the stove. The soup in a crockpot? Time to transfer it to a regular pot and leave it on the stove. If power was restored after Shabbat began, we wouldn’t be allowed to turn our own lights on. Therefore, we went around the apartment flipping the light switches of those we would want on if and when the power was restored.
Wait! Now we’re hearing that Jerusalem’s eruv – the artificial boundary that allows us to carry things on Shabbat – is down? Time to bring over the food we would normally carry to our hosts on Shabbat, and figure out what to do about our house key so we can lock up our apartment when not at home.
Another concern as observant Jews is that we aren’t allowed to benefit from another Jew doing something on Shabbat that we wouldn’t do ourselves. As the majority of the population is Jewish, we needed to assume that the power was being fixed by Jews. How would we be affected if the electricity was fixed after Shabbat began? Prior to Shabbat, the rabbi of Jerusalem’s municipality declared the city in a state of emergency. People could legitimately freeze to death if power wasn’t restored, so all steps to restore power could and should be taken, even on Shabbat.
Shabbat began and still no power. We davened (prayed) and ate dinner by candlelight. Towards the end of our dinner, around 7 p.m., the power was finally restored. We raised our glasses and gave a l’chaim! (toast) in honor of the hard workers of the electric company that worked to restore our power.
Whether observant or not, those few hours without power were unique. Some might think that, as observant Jews, we made extenuating circumstances more complicated than they needed to be. Putting just a little thought into the situation allowed us to get through the blizzard safely and comfortably, while still operating within our religious comfort zones. As a result, Israel’s blizzard of 2013 was a unique and memorable Shabbat experience for everyone.
Daniel Stieglitz, a Providence native, made aliyah in 2007. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Bar Ilan University, and lives and works in Jerusalem. His short story, “Haven,” was recently published in FictionMagazines.com’s online magazine, eFiction. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.