Siege by Snow


We thought we were leaving this kind of weather behind when we left America for the Middle East, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. Then again, the last time a blizzard this size fell down on Jerusalem, it was the roaring ’20’s. Either way, this is my account of what it was like to be under siege by snow.

A little background: The entire upper administration of the school where I work was away in America for recruitment and interviewing applicants for next year, meaning I inherited the entire school (and all of the responsibility that goes along with it) for two weeks. To ease the amount of work and time I needed to put in, we told all of the girls that they had to find housing and meals for themselves outside of our neighborhood for Shabbos, to give both me and the madrichot Shabbos off. That all changed when we saw the weather report.

You have to understand, when the weather report predicts snow in Israel, the average person doesn’t believe it for a second, until they get to the supermarket and it looks like the apocalypse is about to hit. Picture it – nothing on the shelves, a line out the door, not a single empty shopping cart to be found…

“SNOW?” they’ll say incredulously; “Last year it snowed and by the time it hit the ground it started melting!”

So when the forecast was calling for snow from Thursday to Sunday, I knew we had to come up with a backup plan. The only automobiles that have snow tires in Israel are ambulances and firetrucks; buses and especially the average car certainly don’t qualify, which meant getting out of the neighborhood was most likely going to be out of the question, even if the forecast was wrong. Thank goodness I had the foresight (siyatta d’shamaya) to send the handyman to the supermarket on Tuesday for enough food for 50 people for three meals — which we ended up having to prepare ourselves. I even thought ahead to ask the cook to prepare enough kugels on Wednesday, with the plan to freeze them if we didn’t end up needing them.

Waking up on Thursday morning was like a dream. I woke up at around 6:30 and let Lucy outside, already appreciating the gorgeous undisturbed ground the snow was falling on. At 10 till 7, the first period teacher called me to say that he would be able to come in to teach if we were still having school. After getting a hold of the other first period teacher who also said she’d be able to come in, I decided we would open school so that the girls could eat breakfast and maybe have some class. The girls meandered in, excited about the snow, while I made hot chocolate. After first period, the rest of the classes were cancelled, and the girls busied themselves with snowball fights and snowman making contests.

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#whiteout

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and it was just the beginning…

We ran home to get Lucy and Simba, who really enjoyed playing in the snow! At first, Lucy was a little afraid, but warmed up to it a lot once she realized how much fun it was to dig and play.

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YAY! Snow!

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Lucy found a flower in the snow.

At this point, we knew that if the snow kept up (and even if it didn’t) it would be very unlikely that the girls would be able to go anywhere for Shabbos, so we told them to call their hosts and cancel their plans. We went home to rest for a few hours and then went back to school to start cooking.

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passed out after playing in the snow.

As the snow continued to fall, another staff member volunteered to make challah with the girls while Jonathan and I got started cooking. Thinking (in our naive American mentality) that people like the cleaner and the fix-it man would be able to get into school to straighten up, we didn’t think much about logistics as we went along with our business, making tray after tray of chicken, pots of rice, and green beans. We were making three meals for 50 girls at each meal, so we had our work cut out for us. We decided to make two giant pots of chicken soup (one for night and one for day), cholent, and lots of yummy sides. Satisfied with all we’d accomplished, we decided to call it a night and went home to rest for a day of work to follow. Meanwhile, the snow kept on falling.

Friday morning, I woke up to a phone call and a text message that the store wasn’t receiving any challah deliveries, and the challahs that the girls made the night before were sent home with them to the dorms for them to eat. This resulted in a lot of tears from me, frustration that we had no challah, flour, or eggs to make our own. I sent a text to all of our students and told them we needed them to save Shabbos, and a madricha pounded on the doors to get everyone out on a trip to the makolet, where they would pick up pitas, loaves of bread, and grape juice by the case to carry back (in a blizzard) so that we would have enough bread and grape juice. In a minute, went from crying tears of frustration and feeling like I would never be able to pull it together to crying tears of joy from how impressed I was from all of these girls. Within 20 minutes, the school was sparkly clean, the tables were set, and the food was put up on the hot plates. We went home in the falling snow to get ready for Shabbos, and the girls did the same.

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the calm before the blackout.

We got home just in time for our power to go out, along with all of the power along our street. We live on the same street as Baer Miriam, but miraculously, the school still had power that held over Shabbos, but we had no hot water, no heat, and no lights. We piled on the blankets and invited the dogs into bed with us, and somehow stayed warm at home, but definitely took refuge at school, where the heat was pumping and it was very comfortably warm.

Shabbos afternoon, the power came back and stayed back, unlike for many other people in Jerusalem. After Shabbos, we found venturing outside was dangerous and made us feel like we were in a third-world country – cars were abandoned in the middle of the road, the streets went unplowed, trees fell in the middle of the roads, and nothing was done about it for days. Our neighborhood is on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and doesn’t lead to any major highways or hospitals, making it the last on the list to get plowed (by the three snow plows owned by the country). That, and very few people own snow shovels, making clearing your car out (not that we have a car, but wishful thinking) or clearing the sidewalks next to impossible. The city brought in army tanks and policemen to clear the roads, plow the streets, and direct traffic.

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Even now, the majority of the trees on our street are still on the sidewalks, making walking very cumbersome, even a month after the storm.

Israelis are notoriously bad drivers, and that makes driving in the snow here a dangerous activity as well. Jonathan and I needed to go out a few days after the storm (cabin fever had started to set in), so we walked to the commercial neighborhood next to ours, where we set up a cell-phone plan for Yael, Jonathan’s sister. We hitched a ride on the way back with someone from our neighborhood, and spun out into the snowbank as we slid over black ice. Car rides that would have taken 5 minutes took close to 2 hours or more as more people began to venture outside, and the owner of the supermarket in our neighborhood took it upon himself to sleep in his store rather than have to commute from his home. The roads got so bad (and Israelis drive so recklessly) that the city had to close the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway after 8PM for a few evenings to prevent people from driving on the ice.

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The snowfall started on the 9th of Tevet and fell through the 10th of Tevet, which is a minor fast day for the Jewish nation. The 10th of Tevet was when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, and the siege of the city was complete. No longer could anything be imported or exported from within its walls. We fast on the 10th of Tevet to remember that it was the beginning of our exile. This year, on the 10th of Tevet, we were also under siege. Nothing could come into Jerusalem, and nothing could leave. Nothing could even come to the makolets, and we didn’t even have heat or light in our homes, except for our Shabbos candles. It would take days for things to return to normal — cell phone towers were running interference for days, buses were suspended for almost a week, school was cancelled for 5 days, and we were confined to our little homes and neighborhoods within walking distance. For just a minute, we got an understanding of what it felt like to be under siege.

Where in snowfalls past, the snow would melt within a day or two of the storm, this snow held on for weeks, even as the sun beat down on it. Life slowly but surely started to get back to normal, the roads thawed during the day and re-iced over at night, and after a while, the normal routines resumed. But people (including the New York Times) continue to speak about the snowstorm of a century.

We’ll definitely remember it forever.

*(I just have to take this moment to give a shout-out to my amazing Husband and other half, Jonathan, who helped me hold it together during this very stressful and high-pressure time. I never would have been able to pull off the snow Shabbos, or the week of running a seminary, without his help, expertise, and everlasting love and support.)

 

A Little Wisdom


Not many of you know, but I’ve been working on a memoir (novel style) for the past year, and since I’ve unfortunately taken a bit of a hiatus from working on it (no one to blame but myself) I seem to have forgotten what I saved it as on my computer. While searching for it using every keyword I can think of, I came across this gem, and thought about not sharing it because when I wrote it seven years ago, I think I meant it to be private, but decided that it’s worth sharing.

My 12th grade English teacher gave our class a pretty cliche assignment – write a letter to yourself. As you’ll see, I wasn’t too excited about the assignment, because I saved it for the last moment. But what I wrote was relevant then and is still relevant now, and it was exactly what I needed to read today.

May 16, 2007

Dear Carly,

That was weird.  I mean, its weird writing to myself, and starting a letter to myself is a strange thing to do at eight o’clock when I know that I should be working on my term paper before it ends up being fifteen pages.  Even though it will be fifteen pages, whether I do it tonight or not.  Okay, now I need to stop rambling.

I’m going to try.  I don’t know why I waited until the last minute to start this letter.  Whenever I get an assignment like this, I always wait until the very last minute because I guess I’m afraid of the future.  I’m afraid of what is going to happen four years from now and I’m afraid that I wont remember any of the people that I’m going to mention or I will remember then but I wont talk to them anymore.  I really try hard not to be afraid of change but it’s so hard because everything happens so fast and most of the time there’s nothing I can do about it.

Like this year.  It has been such an up and down year and I have felt so many things and I have been so afraid of not being able to make it and then finally I have been so happy to be alive.  Before this year I cannot ever remember crying tears of joy but I did it, and I looked like an idiot, crying tears of joy in my car.

I hope that four years from now I still read as much as I do now.  I hope that I never lose the wonder of diving into a book and not coming out for days and days.  But mostly, I hope that I still write.  Right now, I find such wonder in words and letters and sentences so much that the feeling of a pen or a pencil in my hand is like home.  I don’t know what I would do with my life if I didn’t have my poetry.  College will give me many opportunities to make my performance skills better too, and I hope that I still talk to Mr. Simmons enough to invite him to my performances and have him feel less awkward about coming.

I have to keep in touch with Mr. Simmons.  Not just because he is the poetry club person, but because he gave me the motivation to keep my pen in my hand even when I thought that I couldn’t do it anymore.  And sometimes, it made me really really really mad.  But I did it anyway because writing is like a drug and without it you can seriously injure yourself.  But with it you can save yourself from more things than just yourself.

I really hope that in four years I still know who my friends are: I mean like my real friends, not just the ones that I ask for help on homework or gossip with.

I must mention Jonathan.  Its kind of funny, because at this time last year Jonathan and I had just been together for a month, and now looking back so much seems to have changed, when really, nothing did at all.  Jonathan and I went from never talking to each other outside of school to being practically attached at the hip, and now I feel stronger for him than I ever thought I’d be able to feel about a person.  The bond that we have is a special one, and I cannot imagine a day without telling him everything that happened or sharing a laugh.  He talks about forever, about spending one hundred years together, and as much as I’d like to believe him, I hope that I don’t let him get in the way of my dreams.  I want to experience everything, I want to see the world, and I want to share it with him.  And then, when I’m ready to settle down, if it’s with him, then that will be good.  But if its not, well, that will be good too.  I’ve never been the kind of person to plan my life around a guy, and I don’t plan to be that person anytime soon.  But I know that I love Jonathan more than I knew a person was capable to love.  And I am lucky to have experienced that love.  To be experiencing that love.  And as much as I would like to be sitting next to him reading him this letter in four years, I will not say that it is definite.  I might be, but like I said, if its not, that will be okay also.

I’m not going to lie and pretend that I am thrilled to be leaving high school.  I mean, I’m proud that I did it, and I’m relieved that I don’t have any more work to do, but I’m going to miss the structure and seeing everyone every day.  Mostly, I’m going to miss lunches with Mr. Simmons and Mrs. Corlies’ seamless transitions from one point to another (hopefully I will learn that skill myself!) and sitting in the grass and reading poetry with Mac and just sharing moments that seemed so meaningless but were so full of sustenance with so many people that I care about more than I will ever admit.

I’ve never been very good at the whole run-on sentence thing.  I mean, I write them like its my job.  It’s the one thing that anyone would find in reading any of my papers from however old we were when we started writing to now.  Run-on sentences are my thing.  It’s because I just write the way that my brain tells me to and sometimes that results in a run-on sentence.  or a fragment.  But I’m rambling again.

I could try to search my mind for a last word of wisdom, but the only thing that I would find is a pun or a joke that no one but me will think is funny.  That tends to happen a lot.  Not that I mind or anything.  I love every second of it.

The point of the matter is that the most important thing that I learned this year is that it’s okay to make mistakes and admit it.  It’s okay to write the occasional run-on sentence and it’s okay to realize that I’m alive after sleepwalking for so long.  Have fun with life.  It’s a good thing.

Good luck,

Carly

Update from Israel


We weren’t here when the sirens wailed on Shabbos. We, with my seminary, went away to Moshav Matityahu, a mostly American closed community somewhat like a kibbutz, but without the communist ideology and specialized industry.

My best friends were here, though. And they heard the siren for the first time. Jerusalem heard it for the first time since the Gulf War, and many people didn’t know what to do. Was it a mess up? The Shabbos siren had just wailed fifteen minutes previous to announce the start of the holiday. Where should they go? How long to stay?

Lessons learned quickly in times of war.

But it’s strange, because in Jerusalem, at least where we live in Har Nof, it doesn’t really feel like a war. We’re closed, in our small neighborhood, we have buses that are safe, and we don’t hear the wail of sirens every few minutes like they do in the South. We think constantly about Jonathan’s aunts and uncles and cousins who were called into the army, who are mobilizing on the border of Gaza waiting for further commands. We cried when we heard about the three people who died in Kiryat Malachi, we say tehillim (psalms) and daven every day for the safety of the Jewish people in Israel, and all over the world.

On Shabbos, Jerusalem got a tiny nibble of what it must feel like for citizens closer to the “danger areas.” We unlocked our Miklat (bomb shelter), made sure we knew what to do, and discussed what we would do if we weren’t together at a time when the siren started to wail.

Over the past few days, I’ve thought about a lot, but mostly — what is it like to be at war with a country that doesn’t exist? What is it like to be at war with a group of people that don’t believe that you have a right to exist? With a people that have so little regard for the sanctity of life, even of their own people, that they haphazardly aim missiles at crowded cities and celebrate when they hit the fields of people who share their culture? The answer is, it’s terrifying. Much more for Jonathan’s family and the Israelis and Arabs (and Bedouins) that live in the South; for the people that have less than 30 seconds to get themselves into a bomb shelter before they hear the boom, and usually have to stay there all night.

But, we have the best army in the world, and one video can illustrate that fact to the utmost. In this video, which was shot today – Israel bombs (from an airplane) a rocket launch center located next to a mosque, and hits it with surgical precision. You can see the shrapnel flying from the rockets, the black smoke caused by the detonation of the explosives, and the mosque – which remains unharmed. Would any other army in the world even bother with this kind of precision?

We’re safe — I’m going to update as much as I can to keep everyone informed, but really, our lives haven’t changed much. We’re staying low, keeping out of crowded areas (not for fear of rockets, but for fear of demonstrations), and avoiding buses that go through Arab neighborhoods, which are most likely to be stoned. Please keep Israel in your prayers.

As usual, here’s some food for thought.

Spare Us the Pieties on Gaza

Say what you want about Dennis Prager – his politics, his beliefs; he hit the nail right on the head with this one.

I Am Allergic to Apples


Yesterday, I brought two mangoes to class to eat for breakfast. Since eating mangoes usually results in delicious juice dripping down my face, hands, and clothes (anyone else feel like they can’t ever get the stickiness off?), I decided that being in a class where we were using sefarim (holy books), I should try to find another approach.

It took me forever to eat these mangoes. I peeled them, cut the flesh off the pit, and used a fork and knife to eat the mangoes. Apparently (I obviously didn’t know this, at the time), it mesmerized everyone in my class. Afterwards, I was approached by several people, all asking:

“Do you always eat mangoes that way?”

Although I don’t always eat mangoes that way, I do usually eat mangoes over any other fruit. This, I am sad to say, is because I am allergic to the majority of other fruits.

When I was a teenager, I went to see an allergist, who did a plethora of tests. The blood tests revealed that I am not allergic to any foods.

But wait, you must be thinking, she just said she’s allergic to the majority of other fruits. Is this person insane?

I assure you, I am not insane. Both of these things are facts. I am not allergic to any foods, but I am allergic to most fruits. This is because my allergy is not the result of an allergy.

What I have is called oral allergy syndrome. It means that I am allergic to some sort of pollen that has a protein compound similar to the fruits, which gives me an allergic reaction. When fruits are cooked or frozen, I am not allergic to them because those protein compounds have broken down. I learned the hard way that those protein compounds do not break down if the fruits are freeze dried.

So what fruits am I allergic to?

Apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries (these give me the worst reaction), plums, and almost any other fruit that has a skin that you eat along with the fruit (save for grapes).

What happens to me? Nothing life threatening, thank G-d, but my mouth gets very itchy, and cherries make me lose my voice. I’ve heard that these reactions can get worse if you eat these fruits more often, so unfortunately, there’s only one way for me to enjoy these foods, which I happen to love:

IN PIE.

See: Pie.

 

 

Wireless in Israel!!


Hi Everyone!!

I’m so excited to give you an update — we FINALLY set up our internet today, so I can share with you all of the highs and lows of the past two weeks since we arrived in Israel. When we got there, we took a shirut (a shuttle-bus) to Jerusalem where our friends were waiting at our apartment to give us our key and meet for some fun before they went back to America and we got settled.

That’s where the trouble started. We walked into our apartment, which was filthy. The refrigerator still had old food and plasticware in it, there was some meat-juices frozen to the freezer (see below), and there was dust and grime everywhere. We walked in, told each other (and ourselves!!) that we could possibly make it work, and walked RIGHT back out to get some dinner. After dinner, we went to the supermarket to buy rags, bleach, and other cleaning supplies and got to work.

This is the freezer. It’s painful to look at. No, really, don’t look at it. Scroll down, please.

There were other things wrong with the apartment too: broken closets, broken sinks and faucets, and just all-around poor construction. Oh — and it was infested with ants. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the ants, but here are a few others to give you an idea of just HOW broken it was:

The floors and the walls didn’t meet. So we had ants. Lots of ANTS.

Broken closet — when we moved in, the door was hanging off one one hinge — we took it off so it wouldn’t fall and break even more.

Our broken faucet — the water sprayed EVERYWHERE when we turned it on, and it was missing a knob for the hot water. The bathroom sink was missing the knob for the cold water, so I guess at least it was a LITTLE balanced?

One other thing — our apartment was in the basement of a building, so one room was at ground level, and the other was just below it. We had some great windows that let in a lot of light for a basement apartment — but we had to always keep them closed. Why? Because the neighbor upstairs decided she wanted to make a camp for the neighborhood children in her backyard, where our windows were facing. It was a HUGE surprise the first morning when we woke up to a bunch of children saying, “BOKER TOV!” and “SHALOM!” through our windows.

Needless to say, this apartment was NOT what we envisioned when we wanted to moved to Israel for the year. We spent three days cleaning and living there, and then came Shabbos — when we decided that we HAD to move.

So we said “SHALOM” to that apartment and moved into a piece of paradise.

No, really. Our new apartment has an incredible kitchen, two bedrooms (we are using one for a living/dining room), and the best part? A HUGE BACKYARD. In a major city. In fact, my husband is mowing it right now. Want proof?

Jonathan saying “HI!”

We are SO happy here, even though it’s a work in progress. We still need some bookshelves, a sofa, a fridge, and a washing machine, but it’s really starting to feel like home. I mean, who wouldn’t feel at home getting to look at this every day?

The view

We have a vinyard! And the grapes are SO sweet!

I have much more to update on: my classes, life in Israel, food (like always), and more. Can’t wait to share with everyone!

Taking Time


Loss is difficult. Anyone who has experienced it can tell you that. How difficult depends on the situation, on the person, on the circumstances.

Loss is transient. One minute, it doesn’t feel like anything is missing; the next, the whole world can come crashing down in one second. A memory sneaks up from behind and puts it’s arms around your eyes and yells: “GUESS WHO!?”; circumstance brings up feelings that are too raw for you to know exactly where to put them.

For my whole life, I think I’ve always felt that if I could “conquer” one thing at a time, the large things would never make me sweat. They would never challenge me in ways that I didn’t think I could ‘handle.’ I could ‘handle’ being sick; I could ‘handle’ a bad teacher, a bad grade, a fight with a friend. As long as it was one thing at a time, I could figure out a way to put one step in front of the other.

These days, I feel like ‘stepping’ is all I can do. Some mornings, it feels like I am carrying the weight of the whole world, and then I remember: Pop Pop is gone. I get bad news. I look at our bank statement. And it takes every ounce of my being to put one foot in front of the other.

Control has always been my biggest issue. I want to control everything, which I joke is why I cannot ever decide to become a surgeon, but really, it affects every aspect of my life. Because when something happens that’s beyond my control, or when something doesn’t seem “fair” or “the way things are supposed to be,” it seems like everything begins to spiral out of control. Sometimes, I feel like I should have done something differently. That on some cosmic level, I have to be paying for something. Other times, I just don’t know what to do because it feels like everything is spiraling out of control and I simply don’t know where to begin. How to get back on my feet. How to walk in a straight line again.

Recently, I’ve been handed a series of challenges that are so intricately connected and complex that I feel like I have no choice but to face them all head on at once. I don’t have the option of trading scrabble tiles for better or more useful ones, and I certainly cannot fold this hand of cards. Suddenly, I’m forced to deal with challenges that I thought I’d ‘handled’ long ago, and experiencing feelings and dealing with issues that I never thought would be on my radar screen, let alone forcing me to have tunnel vision. My coping mechanism? I retreat. Onto a sofa, into a book, TV show, or gallon of ice cream. These days, ice-cream’s off the table, which means a lot of time on the sofa or in bed.

I recently started taking a class on Wednesday nights with a group of my girlfriends, and the introduction to the book that we are using talks about the concept of patience. Patience, or in Hebrew, “Sooflanut”, has a very different concept in Judaism than it does in the secular world. Sooflanut doesn’t mean to “roll with the punches,” or to ignore feelings such as anger and resentment when something doesn’t go your way. Instead, it means to have those feelings, and to channel them to a place that makes you better, to say, “This sucks right now, but I have no choice but to keep moving, and it’s up to You to give me strength,” or “This really sucks right now, so I’m just going to focus on putting one step in front of the other until I can handle a little bit of a heavier load.” That sometimes, we don’t have to necessarily learn from our challenges, experiencing and living with them can be enough. We don’t have to “conquer” everything at once; instead, we just need to focus on getting from point A to point B to C and D without any (or many) physical or emotional casualties along the way.

The key to this? Time. Time, like loss, is also transient. Some days, it’s easy for me to get out of bed and notice things like the reflection the rays of sunlight make on the window panes, or to appreciate the pounding rain as it washes away the pollen from our unwashed windows. Other days, I just want to retreat under the covers with a cup of tea and a novel, retreating away from my emotions and from my soul until I feel strong enough to deal with everything once more. And that’s okay. I’m allowed to take time. I’m allowed to have these feelings, to feel like everything sucks until suddenly, it doesn’t anymore, and I’m in the kitchen mixing spices, herbs, and ingredients to feed my husband’s and my soul.

The healing process isn’t easy, and on days like today — impossible. It feels like I took five steps forward only to take ten steps back. But I just have to keep telling myself — it’s okay to feel this way, it’s okay for things to suck.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow will be better, and if it’s not, that’s okay too, as long as I never give up, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, telling myself that I’m getting to a place of “okay” with every step along the way.