In a region with about 8 months of summer and barely enough days of rain to provide the water needed for consumption by the local population, it is not unusual for the rabbis to call on the public to add special prayers for rain. On this issue, the secular seem to appreciate the efforts of the observant. When the rain finally does make its debut, the Israeli public reacts as if our national soccer team won the World Cup.
That being said, snow is a very exciting prospect for Israelis. It is pretty rare, only coming around for about one brief snow day every three years. Some holds on in the towns on mountain tops, like Jerusalem, Tzfat and the communities in Judea and Samaria.
The kids, of course, wait with great anticipation for the snow. Truth be told, it's not just the kids. When it does snow, Israelis from the seashore areas go on pilgrimages to the hills to see the phenomenon for themselves.
From the beginning of last week, the weatherman said that a big storm was on its way, but even with advance warning, it seems that Israel was not ready for what it was about to experience. Thursday brought cold and heavy rain all day. Kids stood by the windows for hours, examining the drops of rain to determine if they might really be snow in disguise. When it got late and the snow hadn't yet covered the ground, my little ones refused to go to sleep, in case the snow might fall and not wait for morning. I assured them that if the snow did show up during the night, it would still be there in the morning. At about that time, a bit of snow did begin falling, mixed with the cold rain. We all bundled up and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I realized that the whole town was in total darkness. We had lost our connection to the main electrical grid.
By Friday morning, the Shomron was covered in snow. Our electricity, phones and Internet were down. We got ready for Shabbat by cooking on the gas stove and using snow to keep our food cold. With no electricity to keep the refrigerator working, I collected some pots of snow to keep the fridge cold, too.
Hot water for showers before Shabbat was not available. We lit a lot of candles, had early Erev Shabbat services at the main synagogue with all of our neighbors who had chosen to stay home and not seek refuge with family or friends in the lower Tel Aviv region.
Our family had the Shabbat meal by candlelight, as the electric company had not succeeded in getting the lights back on before Shabbat. Later on that night, a generator was trucked in to provide for many but not all of the families in their homes, but we still had no street lights, no phone lines and no Internet.
Over Shabbat, our community was totally isolated. An army helicopter landed to evacuate a baby with pneumonia and a woman giving birth. Almost 50 members of our extended family gathered in our home to spend the day of Shabbat together and share the warmth. Nieces, nephews and in-laws were happy to know that everyone here was alright, but we all remained concerned for family members who live at more distant locations - on the hilltops of Itamar and elsewhere. They were totally cut off from all utilities and communication until Sunday morning. Our communities are still not back on the main electrical grid and our phone lines are still down.
On one hand, it is shocking to realize that a flash of bad weather can close down the entire region of Judea and Samaria and the capital, Jerusalem, for the better part of three days. But considering that the last time the region experienced such a bad storm was some 150 years ago, how well prepared can the authorities be?
We appreciate all of the workers from the electric company, the regional municipalities, the IDF and the emergency agencies who are working tirelessly around the clock, out in the thick of this harsh weather, to do their best to provide solutions for the people suffering. It is really amazing how Israel's society mobilizes to help in situations such as these.
In our town, we have a volunteer committee called "Tzachi", which takes upon itself to deal specifically with emergency situations within the community. With great efficiency, they managed to map out who was here and what type of assistance was required. A friend from outside the community volunteered his bulldozer to clear away snow and provide access to roads within the town.
Personally, as a dad, I am very proud of my son, Yair-Macabee who was sent with his IDF unit to Jerusalem in the thick of the storm and went knocking on doors from home to home, to make sure that civilians there had the basics to make it through this freezing cold weekend.