Although I am living in what is regarded as a religious Zionist community just south of Jerusalem this year, in many ways it is pretty similar to the community in which I have lived, just outside of Philadelphia, for the past 20 years.
There are some differences, though, and they became more glaring this past Friday afternoon.
I was trying to finish both my work and my preparations for Shabbat when, around noon, the power went out. All of it. Luckily, my daughter and I had already made several of the dishes we planned to serve. We were hosting 11 19-year-olds for Shabbat, and given all the dietary needs – vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian and hungry meat eaters – we had started cooking early.
I’ve already made challah on a grill when my power went out one Shabbat in the States, so figured I could do that here as well.
But why had the electricity gone out? Was it just my house, as has happened many times – almost always on Fridays, just to keep me on my toes this year – or was it the whole neighborhood?
I messaged a number of my friends on the block. We were all without power.
My neighbor Shari called to say that she was leaving the food market that serves our immediate neighborhood. The electricity was out there as well, apparently it was out throughout Efrat, as well as some other of the local communities, including Neve Daniel and Allon Shvut.
Shari said I should go check it out: the lights and refrigeration were all out at the SuperDeal. Undeterred, the employees at the registers were dutifully writing on pieces of paper the names and phone numbers of each customer, what they were taking, and what each item cost. Credit cards couldn’t be used, of course, and the registers run on electricity anyway.
Yael Meir, the 23-year-old college student cashier whom I recognized from shul, told me the electricity had gone out about an hour earlier. She was completely unfazed. She said that a text message went out explaining that the authorities were trying to fix the problem, which was expected to be resolved within an hour or so.
Another neighbor said she heard an act of vandalism caused the outage – that either Arabs had cut a power line or burnt down an electrical pole. Although several people said they had heard this also, all said it was just a rumor; no one seemed bitter. I asked the person in charge at the market, the one who gave me permission to take pictures inside, whether he knew what happened to the electricity. He was sitting on a bench outside, in the sun.
“No, no one has said what happened. A few people said it might be vandalism, but no one knows.”
The SuperDeal market is in a small strip mall, and although the market was largely empty, the pizza parlor and The Scoop deli had customers.
Manning the counter at The Scoop, 18-year-old Baruch Rosenstark (I know his mom, also from shul) explained that although there were customers, the power outage meant that all the ice cream was likely going to be ruined, as was the iced coffee which is usually sloshing round and round in a small tank of crushed ice.
On the other hand, a dad originally from Teaneck and his four children were sitting at the table eating a meal. The dad said they wouldn’t normally eat out on a Friday afternoon, but they couldn’t cook any food for lunch, so they came out to eat.
Stephen, another Efrat resident, told me that his seven-year-old daughter was stuck in an elevator when the electricity went out. While the young girl was inside, another neighbor began pounding on the elevator door, thinking someone was purposely holding it up. The girl calmly informed him that the elevator was stuck. At that point she had been trapped in the elevator for 2o minutes. The fire department finally arrived and rescued her after being trapped for 45 minutes. She emerged, cool as a cucumber.
Within another hour, the lights flickered a few times, and then all was restored. In time to complete cooking for Shabbat.
A power outage just hours before Shabbat in the States would have been a major calamity. And no one would be purchasing groceries “on the honor system” there. In Efrat, the outage barely merited a shrug.