My wonderful and wine eventful Jerusalem whiteout – Snow days
Well, if you have taken the time to read my last post about my trip to Israel, you would think that life may be wet – but very much wonderful, well that was day 1! Thursday morning I awake, and the rumors were that it was going to snow in the afternoon. My sister said do not go out and my Rabbi even was worrying about it. Well, I woke up and it was still raining, but not a snowflake in sky, which I just guessed was an over worried sister. Well, at 7 AM it was pouring rain, by 7:30 AM there were snowflakes, and by 8 AM there was a real inch of snow on the ground, which means Jerusalem was shutting down, and my winery dreams for the day were over.
You see, in Jerusalem, a few inches of snow is like a foot of snow in New York! My nephew works for the police, and by 8 AM he was all suited up and ready to go. Schools were confused, and they were asking kids to come in any way! By 9 AM, all of Jerusalem had shutdown, the stores were not opening, and schools had come to their senses and told the kids to stay home!
At this point there were a few inches on the ground and it was not letting up! What started to dawn on me was my greatest nightmare, my brother was just landing at Ben Gurion airport and he was not going to make it into the city! You see, the big disconnect here was that only Jerusalem, the surrounding elevated areas (Psagot, Beit El, Ramat Ruziel, etc.) and the north were affected by this, everywhere else it was life as usual. Once again, only the higher elevations were cold enough to have snow! By Sunday, when we were able to drive down to Teperberg Winery (more on that in the next post), halfway down Highway 1 – there was no more snow! I really wonder if someone stood at a certain point on highway 1, could they have had snow on one hand and rain on the other? Yeah I am that nerdy!
Thankfully, my brother grabbed the only thing that was going north at that time, the rakevet (AKA train). When he tried to go to the taxis at the airport, they all said they were not going to Jerusalem, so the only option left was the train. By the time he got on the train, it was standing room only, he was totally shocked! By the time he made it to Jerusalem, by 3PM or so, the first round of snow was just starting to melt and subside and the roads were clearing up. If we had made a run for it earlier in the day, and we had gone to Ella Valley, our car would have been stuck down there – as the highway did not open up again till Sunday!
Thank goodness for that lull in the snow storm because that gave him time to get into a cab and get over to my sister’s home. We made a quick run to a wine store and food store and that was it! Starting Thursday 6PM – hell froze over! By the time we woke up Friday there was 8 inches of snow on the ground and the storm was just getting started!
As Friday progressed so did the storm intensity! It was at this point that I truly realized the massive mess that Jerusalem was in for. You have to understand that Jerusalem gets snow one a year or so. However, it is normally a few inches and it stays for a day and then it melts away! Not this one! This disaster hit Jerusalem and northern Israel in epic proportions! They were not prepared and they really felt the pain. The total cost of this disaster will not be known for sometime, but Haaretz is guesstimating the cost will be in the area of 142 million dollars. From what I saw, a large amount of loss could have been mitigated if the army and guard were called in earlier and if they had properly planned for the event. The crux of the issue, is that the power system and the municipal capacity to clear and salt roads were not built to manage this scale of disaster, and they do not plan to be ready for the next storm. When asked about the loss of power to tens of thousands of inhabitants in the area, Israel Electric Company Chairman Yiftach Ron-Tal, replied that he would not change a thing and would not invest more as the cost would be too prohibitive! He would rather spend the money of security and expanding power options!
Telz Stone was without power for two days! Not far from them, the wealthy suburb of Jerusalem; Ein Kerem also lost power for 48 hours! Thank goodness that the part of Har Nof where my sister lives did not lose power, but the roads were not plowed at all. Which leads to the issue at hand, when was the last time you looked at a road in Jerusalem without a bus on it! When looking down at the roads from my hotel room, on the following Sunday and Monday, it felt eerily like 9-11 all over again. There were few cars and not a bus or train to be seen, which for anyone who has visited Israel for even a day – is 100% unheard of!
Now you ask why? It was a 100% lack of accountability and preparation. The roads were not plowed throughout the city for three days! Where do you expect that snow to go? Even when the snow was plowed – there was nowhere to put your car or bus! My brother walked over the famous white light rail bridge! The light rail itself derailed because of ice and snow!
When it was all over, the roads were empty and inoperable because a road is more than a channel to drive, you must also have the place to stop and get out! Tens of thousands of cars were stranded and abandoned all over Jerusalem and highway 1! This was 100% unheard of anywhere else in the world! Imagine the BQE or LIE filled with abandoned cars and unplowed snow, unheard of! yet that is EXACTLY what happened in Jerusalem! It got so bad that on Sunday, when Highway 1 finally reopened, there were thousands of car owners that streamed into Jerusalem, adding even more traffic to the main highway and blocking the entrance to the road to Har Nof and Har Menuchot (the local Jerusalem cemetery).
With no ability to go anywhere we hunkered down and rode out the storm in the only way you could, bundled under blankets, with warm tea and awesome food! My sister is the host of hosts and she kept us fed and warm, with great charm and aplomb. So, with Shabbos fast approaching, I helped make some food and my sister and her family did the rest and shabbos was upon us before we even knew it!
Shabbos was uneventful, but do not think the snow ever abated, hour after hour snow fell. Friday night there were a few inches and, after a short lull allowing us to go to Synagogue on Saturday morning, the snow returned with a few more inches. Finally, Saturday afternoon, the snow turned to rain and the snow started to melt away. That said, by the time we attempted to dig our car out of a foot or more of snow, the damage had been done. Jerusalem was hammered with so much snow, that it had nowhere to put the stuff! Whatever plows were working were essentially covering parked cars, the roads were still slick, and there was no way the municipal systems were going to come online any time soon – Jerusalem was snow locked in from the rest of the country!
Within Jerusalem, the snow was choking the life out of the inhabitants, so much so, that ambulances were having a hard time getting around. Power lines were downed by falling trees and freezing ice that were never part of the design! Half the power lines are under ground, but to move the rest of the lines underground would cost too much according to Tal, “a one in a lifetime event does not make me want to spend the kind of money required to meet the needs”.
So, where did that leave us? By Saturday night the roads in Har Nof were not maneuverable for many reasons; downed lines, downed trees, slick ice, and unplowed snow. Still, we managed to get the car out of the street and into the underground garage. From there we went to sleep to wait out the rest of the storm. Sunday morning we had a tight schedule with Teperberg Winery and the Domaine Roses Camille Dinner. So, I begged my brother to drive us to the hotel, and after waiting a bit more the snow and ice started to recede and give way to the sun’s dominance.
By the time we drove to the hotel, the roads were still not plowed, but the ruts in the snow were now not iced and that allowed us to get around. That was until we realized that drivers were parking their cars in the middle of the road and walking away to go into the grocery store!!! By the time we tried to back up we got caught in an ice patch and we were stuck. Once we pushed the car out, we had to handle crazy cab drivers, ambulances, downed trees, and crazy drivers till we made it to the hotel.
While standing in line to checkin at the hotel, we overheard folks saying that highway 1 was shutdown, but actually it was wide open and when driving to Teperberg, you could have walked across the road back and forth all day – crazy! So, if you cared about getting to highway one, life was not so bad. If you cared about ANYTHING else within Jerusalem, you were out of luck! No buses would run, taxis would not go down side streets, the kotel was inaccessible unless you walked there! The cemeteries were blocked off. The place was in total lock down, and if you were in town for a few days – you were absolutely 100% out of luck! Which left me only one other thing to do – go to wineries, which I was happy to oblige! Up next – Teperberg!