One of my most vivid memories as a principal in Philadelphia is the late night - early morning agonizing on the phone with the assistant principal as to whether to take the forecast seriously and cancel school, or not. If we were too optimistic, then we had chaos, with buses crawling for hours in a blizzard, and angry parents and teachers. But if we trusted the dire forecast and were wrong, then we gave everyone an unjustified day off, a frustrating waste of precious time and unnecessary disruption of programming. Here at Shorashim, we have no such problems, because it never snows below about 2500 feet above sea level in Israel, and we are at 600.
However, it all came back to me last week, as the hourly news described in detail the severe winter storm bearing down on us. For days in advance, there were predictions of how much snow would fall at each elevation, from the mountains of the Negev to Jerusalem to the mountains of the upper Galilee. The excitement was contagious - especially since the cult of weather has not yet arrived here in Israel, and the TV and radio have not made meteorologists into celebrities, nor do they devote more than about a minute to the forecast at the end of major news programs, and a few seconds on the hourly newscasts. Therefore, the fact that so much emphasis was being placed on the forecast by the announcers implied that we were in for a historic event. People began to stock up on food, and cancel meetings and other plans.
The amount of hype and hysteria only reinforced my skepticism. I guess this response was a vestige of my Philadelphia experience, when I always felt obligated to resist the snow-day hysteria engendered among students and teachers by the competing storm-of-the-century forecasts by the various TV and radio stations.
Well, it snowed here and there, and there were traffic jams in Jerusalem and even a day of paralysis in Safed. Whatever there was melted and washed away before anyone could build a snowman. Mostly, it rained and hailed and blew.
In Philadelphia, the kids hoped openly for a snow day. The teachers hoped secretly. Everyone loves an unexpected, unavoidable break from the routine. There is a wonderful feeling about the gift of a day when all obligations are suddenly canceled. Here, it almost didnt matter whether we actually got the day or not. What mattered was that for three days all the news media focused on nothing but the weather. What a relief to be pulled out of the frustrating reality of the Israeli-Palestinian present, where it is so hard to know what you should do and what you can do, to a world where you cant do anything. While I remember, actually, a Chicago mayoral election that was decided on account of a crisis in snow removal, here in Israel the weather is one of the only things that remains outside of politics. It is as though we were all luxuriating in the freedom that comes of being totally not in control, totally at the mercy of nature, with no decisions to make and no one to be angry at and nothing to feel guilty about. For a few short days, the tabloids ran pictures of kids throwing snowballs instead of rocks, of cars crushed by falling tree branches instead of by tanks, of snow instead of blood. How we longed to have the whole country, the whole region, completely paralyzed for a few days by the forces of nature! How we enjoyed opening the newspaper without dread! How we enjoyed updating each other on the developing forecast of the approaching catastrophe and on our somewhat disappointing experiences of the thing itself!
The weather this week has been beautiful: bright blue skies, warm sun, a biting breeze. The mountains of the Galilee are covered in a rich green carpet and the flowers are beginning to show. And the news? Pray for snow. We need it.