Published: March 17th 2012March 15th 2012
In the story of Purim everything is turned upside down. So it was fitting that our Purim story began on the Friday before Purim (February the 2nd
) - the one day of the year in which “snow” fell on Jerusalem. In Israel, the prospect of snow, not to mention snow itself, causes a frenzy. Even though the weather forecasts all indicated rain, the talk of the town and all the media in the days leading up to Friday was of the possibility of snow. We even received an email from the school advising us to listen to the news media to see if schools would be closed. A similar occurrence took place two weeks earlier when there was a forecast for rain, yet everyone was abuzz over the possibility of snow. The radio was filled with people talking about their last encounter with snow years before, or their first exposure to snow many years before that. Like with the assassination of JFK and 9/11, everyone could recount in precise detail exactly where they were and what they did on every occasion that snow fell on Jerusalem. And everyone was talking about what kind of “boobat sheleg
” (snow doll) they’d build. I
assume they use the term snow doll rather that snowman because the snowfall is typically so modest here that a snow doll is about all one can hope to build.
Then, sure enough, on Friday February 2nd
we woke up to falling snow, and the thinnest layer of wet snow on the ground. Yet, we received no further emails from the school, and there were no announcements on the radio of school cancellations. So we bundled the boys up as best we could and, at 8:00 a.m., escorted them through the sleet to school. Oddly, we didn’t encounter the usual crowd of parents and kids converging on the school. I attributed this to the fact that we arrived a few minutes after the school bell had already sounded. What I did not realize was that many parents had kept their kids at home, either to avoid braving the weather, or because they already knew the inevitable – that school would quickly be cancelled.
After returning home, I called our Yoga teacher Tzvi, who drives to our neighbourhood from across town, to check whether Yoga
would be happening as usual at 9:00 a.m. “Ain ba’aya
” (no problem) said Tzvi. Within minutes, the snow was coming down in big flakes. Tzvi called back to say the roads were so treacherous that he couldn’t continue. What Tzvi really described, however, was cars without snow tires and drivers without experience driving on paper-thin patches of slush. Since Aimee and I were all ready for a walk in the snow anyway, we decided to stroll along the bike path to a supermarket about 10 minutes away and do some pre-Shabbat shopping.
There were few cars on the road, but lots of smiling people out walking, including many taking pictures of the almost-wintry scene. We made it to the supermarket at around 9:15 a.m. Within minutes I got a phone call from Adin from the school’s office saying that school was cancelled due to the snow and asked how long it would take me to come pick him up. I said about 15 minutes. Adin replied - sounding slightly panicky - that, no, you have to come now. I said we’d come as quickly as I could
and that we’d get there in about 10 minutes. I alerted Aimee and I stood in line to pay for our groceries while she walked back out into the still-falling sleet. Within minutes I received another call, this one from Ezra’s teacher Hanna asking where I was - again, with an edge of panic in her voice. By the time Aimee got to the school, Ezra and Adin were the not the only one’s left, but there were not many kids or staff still at the school. Aimee and the boys slowly made their way home, scraping enough snow off of a parked car to make a snow ball, but otherwise just wanting to get home and warm up. At this point there was - at the very most - a centimeter of wet snow on the ground, but the flakes were big and the buses were not running. The city was shutting down. However, by 10:15 a.m. the sun was out and by 11:00 a.m. there was not even a hint of snow on the ground – a full 45 minutes before school would normally end on Fridays. But during those two to three hours of “snow” everyone enjoyed
their brief taste of winter. Some managed to form and throw a few snowballs. We even saw a couple of snow dolls, which were just about the size of dolls. …. Later in the afternoon I mentioned to Adin’s violin teacher Michael that everyone seemed to panic this morning during the snowfall. He said it wasn’t so much panic, as euphoria. Upon reflection it seemed to me that the combination of panic and euphoria accurately captured the mood in the city.
We took advantage of the early dismissal to drive to the “Kenyon Hadar
” Mall in the nearby commercial-industrial neighbourhood of Talpiot to shop for Purim costumes. Although the mall would normally be swarming with shoppers trying to find their last minute Purim costumes, the snow had scared away all but a few of us adventurers. The mall looked like a North American mall in the lead up to Halloween, with costumes and candy treats displayed and advertised everywhere. Aimee and I decided to do Purim as Rastapharians, wearing matching black dred locks and knit green-yellow-red-black hats. Ezra selected items to be a punk rocker- a black
and red spiky wig, sunglasses with skeleton images in the lens, and skeleton jewelry to go with his black skeleton T-shirt from Savannah Georgia. Adin, as always very creative and clear in his ideas, gathered elements to become a Japanese Clown – a black and gold set of cloths with oriental writing, a orange and yellow spiky wig, sun glasses with lenses that reflected the colour of his hair and outfit, and a package containing a variety of stick-on mustaches. Aimee and I were dubious of Adin’s concept, but he was determined to be a Japanese Clown. And, as always, when it comes to matters of style and artistry, Adin proved himself to be right. Everywhere we went on Purim his costume was a big hit. We’re still trying to figure out how exactly a mustache fit into the concept of a Japanese Clown – but we have to admit that it was the costume element that pulled everything together. Mystifyingly, always-smiling Adin was the world’s most serious clown. Adin later explained that the only way to keep the mustache from falling off was to avoid smiling.
By Friday afternoon, the late morning sun was as long gone as the early morning snow, and we were back to the record-breaking rains we’ve been experiencing all winter. Perfect timing for a 20 minute walk to supper at the home of “Bird” - an old Young Judea friend of Aimee’s from Halifax. Following Kabbalat Shabbat services at a nearby synagogue, Aimee and I put on large garbage bags to give us some extra protection from the rain – an old marathon runners’ trick - as did Adin, though his garbage bags were quickly in tatters. Ezra refused outright to embarrass himself by dressing in garbage bags. The garbage bags prompted some bemused looks from passers-by, but they do keep one dry, are highly effective at retaining body heat, and very cost effective. Aimee and I made it to Bird’s mostly dry. Ezra and Adin, not so much. Fortunately, the first course was hot hot soup. By the end of the evening, the hard driving rain had eased off to a light drizzle and we had a pleasant walk home – garbage-bag free.
By Saturday the weather had turned for the
better and the forecasts started to indicate that spring may be here at last. As always in Israel, Jewish holidays mean lots of days off school. Tuesday, the last day of “school,” was given over to one big Purim party with non-stop junk food consumption. And then after school everyone seemed to have playdates, including Ezra. But excluding Adin, who was most unhappy with having to do a violin lesson when everyone else was out playing. I warned Adin’s violin instructor Michael that Adin would likely not be too excited about violin that afternoon. Which was true, but Michael handled the situation well and kept things light and easy.
After violin we loaded up the car and all drove north - including Rosie who was squeezed in the back - to visit with cousins Raphy, Ofek and Shalev in the ancient coastal town of Acco (sometimes also spelled Acre). We met up with the 11 year old twins Ofek and Shalev and their mother Leah at the Kenyon Acco
Mall – these malls seem to be everywhere now. Acco is one of Israel’s mixed Arab-Jewish cities; a
fact very apparent in the mall. Indistinguishable in attire and hair styles, the two populations seemed to co-exist comfortably. I guess that’s how Israel Arabs and Jews in Acco celebrate “International Israel Apartheid Week”.
Raphy joined us in the mall and then gave us a tour of his home in Acco, which he is sharing with what seemed to be about 30 other 18 year olds as part of the Habonim year-program in Israel. They all seemed like happy bugs-in-a-rug, squeezed together in their cozy and rustic accommodation. An ideal setting for someone with an aversion to solitude, privacy, or elbow room. From Acco we drove up the road to Kibbutz Sa’ar where my cousin Mel (Ofek and Shalev’s dad) lent us his apartment. (Mel is currently working in Africa) After visiting with Raphy and his mates, Mel’s place seemed spacious and well appointed. And the kibbutz grounds seemed lush and immaculately tended.
Thursday morning we wandered around the walled city of Acco - the old part of the city currently populated
almost exclusively by Israeli Arabs. All seemed friendly and welcoming and spoke excellent Hebrew. At Raphy’s recommendation we lunched at “Humus Shel Sayid
” (Sayid’s Humus). The food was excellent, plentiful, and great value at 30 shekels (10 dollars) for the four of us. The staff was warm and accommodating, placing us by a window next to Rosie who was leashed outside, wearing a muzzle to prevent any mishaps. From Sayid’s we explored the “Templar Tunnels” under the Old City, and enjoyed a large glass of sugar cane juice with crushed fresh ginger. While sipping our cane juice we chatted with an Israeli Arab from the nearby Arab town of Sachnine who speaks impeccable Hebrew and invited us to a professional soccer game in his town. The team “Bnai Sachnine” (Sons of Sachnine) is fully integrated with slightly more Arab than Jewish players. Taking in a game would have been another great way to celebrate Israel Apartheid Week.
Mid-afternoon Raphy met up with us again and gave us a walking tour of Old Acco. Lots to see there and too little time. Hopefully we’ll be able to pay
a return visit soon. Ofek joined us for supper at a local restaurant while Shalev headed off with Leah to a birthday “Bowelling” (yes, it’s pronounced exactly as transliterated) party. It was great to see the boys connect so well with the twins, especially Ezra and Ofek. And all in Hebrew. A stark contrast to our visit with the twins at the beginning of our stay in Israel when they could barely communicate with each other.
From supper we traveled back to Kibbutz Sa’ar, with a stop on the way at “Shuk Faisal
” (Faisal’s Market). Another opportunity to celebrate Israel Apartheid week. Shuk Faisal is a thriving supermarket similar in set-up and merchandise to Costco, except with great barrels full of freshly picked produce from nearby fields, and is owned by a wealthy local Israeli Arab. The staff is, once again mixed Arab and Jewish (more Arabs than Jews) and the clientele is mixed as well (more Jews than Arabs). I guess these Israel Arabs and Jews forgot to get with the Apartheid program.
The next day, Thursday, we got an early start and drove east then north, before returning to Jerusalem late in the afternoon for Purim. Purim is celebrated a day later in Jerusalem than in the rest of the world. Our first destination was the abandoned town of Baram located on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Baram is the location of the remains of a magnificent 1500 year old hill-top synagogue which we joked about as a possible venue for Ezra’s Bar Mitzvah. I think it could comfortably accommodate 150 people, which is plenty. Weather, however, could be a problem in late February early March. Baram also contains much more recent remains of a Maronite Christian village, whose residents remained in Israel during the War of Independence and have been fighting in the courts ever since to reclaim their village. Everyone, including Rosie loved climbing in, over and around, all the ruins of the synagogue and town. Even after Adin pointed out the no-climbing signs around the site.
From Baram we drove to Tel Dan National Park at the north-east corner of Israel, just
below the snow-covered Mount Hermon. Tel Dan contains the Dan River, which is the largest of the three sources of the Jordan River. After the recent record breaking cold-wet winter, the river blasts through the park in a torrent – no sign of global warming detectable here this winter. Tel Dan also offered a further opportunity to celebrate Israel Apartheid week with the many Israeli Arabs enjoying the park with us, including an Israeli-Arab-Bedouin soldier – wearing his Israeli army uniform - who befriended Rosie. The boys and Rosie loved hopping on the stepping stones that criss-crossed the many branches of the river splayed throughout the park.
With our time limited, we had to cut short our visit in Tel Dan and drive back to Jerusalem for Purim. We stopped briefly at the point where the Jordon River enters the Sea of Galilee to check out the river at its widest point. Then I put the pedal to the metal and sped south to Jerusalem.
That evening - at the invitation of the family
of Ezra and Adin’s hockey buddies, Ido and Roi - we attended a family Megillah Reading and potluck Purim party in the basement of a nearby building. A number of people, including two women, chanted the Megillah in a wide range of musical/religious styles. Purim day, Friday, we devoted to assembling and delivering Mishloach Manot – Purim packages containing a variety of treats. Some we delivered by car, others by foot. Thankfully, we didn’t need to prepare meals for Shabbat as our friends Shmulik and Yonatan invited us to spend Shabbat with them in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim. So with the sun quickly setting we got back into the car and raced down to the coast, arriving with only minutes to spare before the onset of Shabbat.
There are more photos below