Latest update: December 16th, 2013
Some Israelis made a few discoveries this past storm (dubbed Alexa, in case you were wondering): they had no idea how bad it gets in places like Buffalo and Poughkeepsie, not just for one weekend, but for the stretch between Hanukkah and Passover; they had no idea that’s how your car responds when you slam your breaks in a snow storm; they had no idea snow storms can cause days and days of blackouts; and they had no idea how long it can take snow removal teams to snow remove.
And so, along with the breathtaking images of Jerusalem and other ancient sites under a blanket of snow, Israel’s popular media began to fill with complaints. I suppose everyone arriving in Buffalo for the first time, say, in mid-January, was wondering how come the snow stays there for so long and how come local services are straining to meet the challenges of cut off service and snow packed highways and streets. But come the next year, I expect the whining diminishes.
Israelis, for whom a storm on this massive scale is something that happens only every third generation, were ready to impeach the national government and all the local governments in between.
Shalom Yerushalmi, who teaches Political Science, wrote in his Maariv column that he actually missed his 12:35 AM flight to New York Thursday. What a harrowing experience it had been. He couldn’t get a cab, so he drove his own car, a 2001 Mitsubishi, to the train station in Malcha, where they had promised to send out a train at 9:30 PM, but then they didn’t. So he had to take his car to Ben Gurion airport, but was stuck on the highway. Of course, police were begging folks not to use their cars and stay home, but he had a ticket to New York City, it has to trump the bad weather.
He sat in a traffic jam for three hours, as snow removal trucks were unable to snow remove, on account of the hundreds of Israelis who had opted to drive their cars, resulting in a few of them discovering belatedly what happens when you slam your breaks in the snow.
This guy decided to pick a different route, getting over to French Hill, so he could still catch his flight, which by now had been postponed to 5:20 AM. But the thing about Israeli driving is that whatever solution you have come up with – 200 Israelis had thought about it before you did, and so this new approach quickly filled up with Israeli cars that had swung out of control, on account of the don’t slam your breaks in the snow thing.
Finally, fearing for his life, our hapless traveler sought shelter from a friend who lived nearby. And he vows revenge: “The day will come when we’ll deal with those responsible for these failures. How can it be that major arteries would be closed like this? How can it be that friends of mine, one after serious back surgery, the other who is disabled, would be stuck at home without electricity and heat for four days?”
Of course, the way to guarantee heat during a snow blackout is to purchase a safe kerosene space heater, and the way to make sure you don’t run out of water is to store water in bottles and in your tub. And the way to make sure you don’t risk your life by getting stuck on a highway during a snow storm, is, for heavens sake, don’t drive your car when police are warning you to stay home.
Many commentators, both on TV and in the papers, used their bully pulpits in a similar fashion, condemning a government that was straining to cope with a crisis that happens once in 50 years. Very few commentators found it necessary to discuss personal responsibility in a crisis, preparedness on an individual basis – all the things folks in Buffalo and Poughkeepsie have been doing since snow was first invented.
My friend and colleague Stephen, who lives in Efrat and so has been exposed to a much rougher version of the “storm of the century” than we did here, in coastal Netanya, wished to differ with the general gist of my story, and so, loyal to the ethics of truth in reporting, I will paraphrase from his recent irate chat:
Israel is looking like a third world country this weekend, because there were no surprises here that couldn’t have been planned for in advance on both the local and national level to help relieve the situation, and that includes simple solutions like stocking up on salt for the roads and buying a snow plow or two to attach to a pickup truck here in the Gush.
The IEC could actually have fixed their infrastructure years ago, as the residents of Gush Etzion have been suing them to do these past few years. It’s practically criminal that they haven’t done so.
Jerusalem has snow almost every winter, as well as some big storms every couple of years, even if not on this scale. This wasn’t a new and unpredictable event for the IEC or the government.
Maariv cited Shlomo Buchbut, of The Center For Local Government, one of the most experienced experts in this field, who said he had been trying to contact and advise local decision makers across Israel, with disheartening results. He said the experience reminded him of the early hours of the Yom Kippur war, when reports of a crisis were streaming in droves and decision makers were stuck in place frozen.
I suppose it’s a combination of issues, then. Israelis who feel they can measure up to anything life hands them discovering their own mortality, and an Israeli government that believes when the time comes it’ll figure out something already.
See you next century.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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