Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
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Preparing for snow, Israeli style

January 28, 2008 |  9:47 am

Hebrew has one word for snow: sheleg. But it definitely has several synonyms, among them "major news." (Kids here have a word of their own for snow: vacation!)

In fast-paced Israel, talking about the weather is a luxury — and there's nothing small about this talk. Preparations for the infrequent snow that is expected to grace hilltops about 2,000 feet above sea level between Tuesday and Wednesday are in full motion — grocery shopping, frantic searches for that missing glove and much forceful shoving of feet into last year's boots. It's dominating headlines too. During last week's bitter cold spell, a resourceful radio anchor interviewed the country's only known Eskimo resident. (You call this cold?)

There are also more serious, practical preparations. The Jerusalem municipality has its snowplows revved up to keep more than 300 miles of emergency routes open, and the city's welfare department is helping move homeless people into shelters. Several people died of exposure recently as temperatures have been unusually low this last month.

True to Israeli style, nothing is ever entirely divorced from politics. The Winograd Commission, appointed to investigate how the government and army conducted themselves during the 2006 war in Lebanon, is publishing its final report Wednesday. The political system is bracing for tremors, as the report is expected cite lapses of judgment. Protestors seeking the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the war are planning around the harsh Jerusalem weather. "How to topple a government in the snow?" asked a headline on a leading Israeli news site.  (How indeed? One possibility is that protesters would gather outside Defense Minister Ehud Barak's house. He lives in Tel Aviv. It last snowed there in 1950.)

Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem