Friday, October 17, 2014

Are You Prepared for Israel's Next Snow Storm?

ערב שבת קודש פר׳ בראשית תשע״ה

Last winter, when Israel was hit by one of the worst snow storms in its recent history, with about 19,000 homes losing electrical power. I was one of the lucky ones who did not. Yet, I think about what I would have done, if I had not been so lucky. Would I have been prepared to weather the storm? Will I be prepared for the next time snow or another surprise hits? Will you be prepared?

When I complain that Jerusalem winters are unbearable, my friends from New York, Chicago, Montreal, and northern domains, just laugh at me, and tell me that I don't not what real cold is like. When I tell you that I was born and raised in San Diego, where it is not unheard of to wear shorts during most of the winter, you will probably understand my point. I don't "do" cold. Give me one of these 35 C/95 F days anytime. You can keep the cold!

However, since I have chosen to live in Jerusalem, and not along Israel's Mediterranean coast, I have no choice but to "deal with" the cold of Jerusalem's winter.

View from my balcony:
The lights on the sukkah still haven't been taken down, and are collecting snow.

Last year's snow storm began on a Thursday morning, and continued through Shabbath. Travel within Jerusalem, on Sunday and Monday, was challenging, to say the least. Bus service was delayed during the early morning to avoid travel on iced over streets. Plus, just like every time it snows in Jerusalem, travel was always further complicated by everyone and his cousin coming into the city from Tel-Aviv, in order to see and enjoy the novelty of the snow.

While those of you living in New York, Chicago, or Montreal maybe rolling your eyes, I must emphasize that since snow is still a relatively rare occurrence in Jerusalem, the municipality does not see it as economically feasible to invest in the kind of equipment other cities around the world use daily throughout the winter. Instead, last year, we were told to stock up, and stay off of the streets. The city's economy might be stung, but accidents would be avoided.

Screen Shot: Live Kotel Cam
9 Teveth, 5774/December 12, 2013, 12:30 PM

My boss called me that fateful Thursday morning, and told me not to bother to come into work. Already out and about, I took the opportunity to stock up on food for the weekend and beyond, having in mind to purchase some food which would not require any cooking,...just in case.

However, if the power had gone out, I would have not have had any idea what I would do for heat. Even my awesome camping sleeping bag would leave me with a chill to keep me up most of the night. I had tried it out, so I already knew. Always test out your equipment!

Nevertheless, according to the chatter I heard after the storm had passed, I was much better prepared than most. I heard one man talking about how worried he was during the storm, that the food in his refrigerator would go bad, because thy did not have any power. Apparently, this man failed to notice all of the freezing cold white stuff laying around, which he could have shoveled into a bucket, and used to keep his perishables from perishing. Of course, he noticed the snow, but did not put two and two together.

Fortunately, one friend of mine who lives north of Jerusalem, thought to turn on all of the gas burners in his kitchen before Shabbath,* as they had lost electricity during the storm. He stationed his wife's bed there for her and their week-old newborn son. He and his daughters took every sweater, jacket, and blanket they owned, and camped out in another bedroom.

I have heard that a great many people become injured, or even die, from panic, and lack of preparation, than from the actual crisis or event itself. Even my friend who spent the night, this snowy Shabbath, had to remind me to fill up several bottles with water, from the faucet in the event that the freezing temperatures would cause pipes to burst, or affect our water supply in some other way.

One would think that such ideas would come to those of you in New York, Chicago, Canada, and Russia, quite naturally, just like knowing what to do in the event of an earthquake, and being prepared in advance for such an occasion is second hat to most Californians. However, that does not seem to be the case after all. Perhaps, we have become so dependent on technology, that our "thinking caps" have become impaired, when left without it.


Ask others with more experience that you. In mind case that mean learning about "layering," and the importance of wearing a hat, from a friend from Maryland. Likewise, during the summer months, I suggest to my roommate from upstate New York that he try jumping into the shower briefly, or just running the water on his neck for a few minutes.

Test Run
A few months ago, the power went out for a couple of hours. I was amazed that people did not know what to do with themselves, unless of course, they had a full battery on their computers and independent access to the Internet.

Lighting candles and reading a book, or going for a walk never would have occurred to them, except for maybe when their batteries ran out.

Recently, on a Friday, my power went out, while in the middle of cooking for Shabbath. I forgot where I heard this joke, but it is priceless:
Q: What does a 'prepper' call a power outage?

A: Practice.
Sure enough, I got some practice, as well as a friendly reminder to get my act in gear, and acquire what I have, so far, only been thinking about acquiring.

Truth be told, most of my cooking was done. I had only the meat left to prepare. As I knew that my local grocery store was open, I jaunted over to buy some charcoal, something which I really should have had on hand anyway. This experience also reminded me to get that gas canister I keep telling myself to get for cooking back-up, as well heating in an absolute pinch.

Well, once again, I lucked out. An electrician friend of mine was in the area, so he came over to sort everything out. My electric oven apparently was the culprit which tripped the electrical board. I would really prefer to have gas cooking appliances. But, as a renter, I have what I have.

For the coming winter, I hope to stop procrastinating, and buy a canister of gas to have on hand for back-up, if for nothing else. The gas canister can also be used for heat, in a pinch. Attachments can been bought which direct and diffuse the heat. But, I have been warned that it is not the heating system for use on Shabbath, without a proper gas heater hooked up to it.

I have even thought of the possibility of acquiring a wood burning stove, even just a small one for back up.

I have been, but must still confirm, that kerosene  heaters made for the indoors have been made illegal, for the populace's "own good." So, the option here would be finding a used one whose owner would be willing to part with. Kerosene  heaters made for outdoor use, are just that, made for outdoor use. As far as I understand, it is really not a good idea to use them indoors.

Jerusalem sits 800 plus meters in elevation. That is about 2,600 feet. It never gets within a few degrees below 0 C (32 F). If you are inside at night without heat during such temperatures, with all of your sweaters and jackets and blankets piled on, chances are that you will more likely than not, survive the night, Just like my friend and his family, I mentioned above did. But, what if you have small children or babies or elderly at home?

As part of my preparation for the coming winter, I have tried to talk about it with friends, particularly those with more experience than I when it comes to snowy winters. When I first moved to the East Coast, after living my entire life in California, a friend of mine who grew up in the Northeast, had to point out to me various things about living through the winter, I never would have thought of, everything from a hat, gloves, and thermal underwear, to layering clothing. I probably would have never thought of these things on my own.

Unforntunately, my experience, so far, has been that nobody wants to talk about the coming winter, let alone getting "prepped" for different case scenarios, such as power outages.

According to, snow is expected in Jerusalem, this January. So, hopefully, as we get closer to Jerusalem, snow potential, my neighbors will become more amenable to such discussions.

Stay tuned!


*The Torah forbids Jews from creating, transferring, and extinguishing of fire on Shabbath. The addition and subtraction of fuel is also forbidden to Jews on Shabbath.


Neshama said...

What a nice post. I synpathize with you. Last year's winter had me cold cold cold, and when the snow came I was filled with excitement and took pictures from INSIDE of the weeping trees from the heavy snow weighing them down. It was white everywhere. I'm from NY and Boston and I know what real freezing cold is, but it was always OUTSIDE. Here in Israel, it's colder inside than outside! One needs to go outside and walk in the winter sunshine outfitted with easily removable layers, because it can get really hot midday. But in the early AM when you stick your nose out from under the many quilts you are greeted with mild frostbite. The cement walls get too cold to touch. Got to put those heaters on Shabbat timers. Why does the Middle East have such cold winters? That was the only surprise that greeted me living in Jeusalem. Yes, and when it kept snowing from Thursday all through Shabbat it was truly amazing. Our elec went out Friday AM and I pledged to stay under the covers til it came back on. B"H it did at noon. At which point ensued a mad rush to get Shabbat preps underway, heat up the water for showers, put up a cholent, reset all the time clocks on all the heaters and lamps, after unplugging everything to protect against surges. But the snow kept coming. It was so much that cars couldn't go, buses couldn't go, no school, no work, until the city could remove all the fallen trees and branches blocking myriad streets. B"H it was one exciting snow storm.

Esser Agaroth said...

Thank you, Neshama.

Thank you as well for sharing your experience. This is really the best, I think, to become prepared, to share with each what we have found to work, and what hasn't worked.

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