Saturday, January 12, 2013

Snow in Israel, Snow in Bulgaria

I awoke early Thursday morning, ate breakfast, and prepared to leave the house for the drive to my office in Ramat Gan. A look out the window, however, slowed me down. As predicted by the weathermen, the ground was white and snow was falling steadily. A quick check on the Internet informed me that the Jerusalem - Tel Aviv highway was closed in both directions. It looked like it was going to be a snow day.

Snow does not often fall in the Jerusalem area, and snowfall at our home in Moshav Neve Ilan, which is at a lower elevation, is an even rarer event. But when the snow falls, Jerusalem shuts down. Politics, war, the economy, religious strife - everything is forgotten for the day as idyllic scenes of the Old City walls, churches, and mosques covered in white make everyone sigh.

Jodie and I are not strangers to snow. We both grew up in areas of the United States where the cold fury of winter left its mark on our childhood. Upstate New York and the plains of Iowa saw significant snowfall every year, with little thought given to snow being anything special.

After our families moved to Israel and Jodie and I set up our first home on a kibbutz in Israel's south, the winter weather of our youth became an even more distant memory. It was only after we moved to Neve Ilan and experienced the occasional visit of winter that we re-encountered the white stuff falling from the sky.

The winter of 1992

The winter of 1992 was quite memorable. The snow began falling on Wednesday evening and we walked around excitedly as it began sticking to the ground. But a short while later, our excitement abated. The weight of the snow was not something the branches of the many pine trees of the nearby forests could bear. As we walked on snowy paths, we heard branch after branch collapse. Branches fell on the electricity lines, and power to the moshav was cut.

We spent three freezing days and nights without electricity. Luckily, our oven was powered by gas, but we lacked heating and hot water. It was fun to play in the snow, but the fun was quickly forgotten once you tried to dry off inside a very cold house.

Winter in Bulgaria

When my job was relocated to Bulgaria for two years and I arrived in Sofia at the end of January, 2009, I called Jodie to inform her that the weather was quite balmy. I enjoyed walking around the Bulgarian capital photographing the sights in the unseasonable warmth.

Jodie flew to Bulgaria on a very cold night and arrived at our apartment. The next morning I woke up first and informed Jodie that I had a surprise for her. She looked out the window and saw that a thick layer of snow had fallen during the night. She was not pleased.

Snow was an ordinary occurrence in Bulgaria, not something to get excited about. The roads were quickly cleared, people went to work and school as usual, and the buildings were comfortably heated. The trams, buses, and taxis all operated, and only remote mountain roads were closed. It was snowing outside, so what?

The sidewalks of Bulgaria, however, were an entirely different matter when it snowed. Rarely cleared or salted, one walked on the sidewalks at one's own peril. Underneath the snow there were sure to be patches of ice. It was safer to walk in the streets, avoiding the potholes and traffic there.

A snowy vacation

One of the first weekend vacations Jodie and I took in Bulgaria was a bus trip to the village of Koprishtitsa. When we woke up we saw it was snowing outside, and we wondered if we should cancel our plans. But after some discussion, we decided that if we canceled our activities every time the weather got bad, we would end up not doing anything at all. We got on the bus.

When we arrived in Koprishtitsa, it was snowing quite heavily. We made our way carefully from the bus stop to the hotel where I had made reservations, only to discover that we were the only guests. All the Bulgarians who had planned to visit had canceled their trip due to the weather; only two foreigners were crazy enough to come to the village in the middle of a severe snowstorm. We walked around the snowbound village despite the weather, but were eager to return to our warm apartment in Sofia the next day.

We can do without the snow

Back on Neve Ilan on Thursday, the snow came down more heavily than I had expected, turning the back garden of our home into a white wonderland. The highway to Tel Aviv remained closed due to icy conditions, but at least the power remained on all day. We were warm, with no desire to go outside and experience the unusual weather.

Jodie and I had enough of snow growing up in the United States, and then we experienced two cold winters in Bulgaria. Luckily when the snow falls in Israel, it is only for a short visit. On Friday the temperatures rose and the snow swiftly melted. Winter vanished quickly, as if it had all been a strange white dream.


  1. I had no idea it could snow in Israel. Pretty! Though I know how disruptive it can be. Same thing happens here in Seattle when it snows. Totally unprepared. I don't care for it either though it's pretty for about 4 hours.

  2. Snow comes to the Jerusalem every few years or so. Neve Ilan, where I live, is at a lower elevation so snow is a rare visitor. The problem is that Israel doesn't have the infrastructure to handle the snow. Highways are closed as a safety precaution due to the snow and icy conditions. We stay at home and try to stay warm. A few hours later, the snow melts and it's all just memories. Until the next time.