It snows every few years in Jerusalem. The snowfall of 2003 was the 3rd best in 100 years! It started snowing at 2am and by morning it started to pile up. Jerusalem in the snow is one of the most beautiful sites you'll ever see. I called a few friends, put on a few layers of clothes and we headed off to the Old City...

From my place in Rehavia (a quiet neighborhood in Jerusalem), its usually a 15 minute walk to the Old City. In the snow with friends, it took an hour! Inside the Jewish Quarter, there was a fun atmosphere. 18 year old Yeshiva kids from NYC were throwing snowballs in all directions. Enough stores were open to keep it interesting. The Wailing Wall ('the kotel') was magnificent in the snow. At one point, we found ourselves in a foot of snow! It started snowing even harder and it was time to trek back.

My cats in the snow! At first, they said no way and stayed inside. When it got a bit warmer in the afternoon, they got brave and spent hours playing in the snow. They're only seven months old, so they're amazingly cute. I stood outside and watched them play in the snow a few times - kicking the snow and hopping all over the place.

While we're at it, a few pictures of the winter of 2003 from indoors! There was snow on the ground for over a week. They literally closed the Holy City - no buses, no school, most stores were closed (but not my favorite nearby supermarket that's stocked with American food!). Drivers were told to stay off the roads. Jerusalem is known as a great city to walk in - rain, snow or shine. This snowfall came after a tough two and a half years for Jerusalem. Let's hope it means something good!

Looking back a few years later..

I moved to Jerusalem just before the 2000-2004 Intifada got bad - in January 2002. By the time I had a welcoming party two weeks after moving in, things were awful. Anyone who lived there at that time knows what I mean. As I work at home and was single then, I had friends over all the time. You couldn't relax at a restaurant or in a crowd like you used to. We watched movies and ordered lots of pizzas to forget about the news. I haven't eaten so much pizza since! But its only fair to mention that I made lots of meals for my friends too.

So many friends left Israel during this period. For economic reasons even more than security reasons - the Intifada and the US economic slump lead Israel to a rough recession in the early 2000's. There were a few times when I had a few goodbye parties to go to in the same month! Some at the beach and others at restaurants and pubs. Israel has always had young people from all over the world visit and live here for a few years and move on - its a great experience. Out of dozens of people from English speaking countries that I met while I lived in Jerusalem in 2002-2003, only a small handful are still here. Who stayed? Mostly those of us who were here well before things got bad. Anyone here since the 80's and up to mid-90's was more likely to stay whereas it was rougher on those in Israel only a few years when the Intifada started.

When I wasn't with friends, it was my hobbies and cats that helped. I spent lots of time on my music collection and it grew more during that period than at any other time since. I bought and listened to lots of classic rock and finally got myself back into Israeli music. It was relaxing to be at a music store and even more exciting to get home and listen to cd's for the first time. Having little cats added something so positive to the house when it was frightening to walk past a crowd outside. The cats heard the sirens and sometimes explosions, but didn't know what it was - they were too busy putting on great acrobatic shows for us! Your pets are your best friends - but during a war you appreciate things like this much more.

I did everything I could to forget about what was going on around me - sometimes it would take until 1am to really relax, knowing the horrors of the day were probably over for a few hours. I wasn't the only one who had short focus during this period - almost everyone was affected in his or her own way. During a few tense periods, I remember waiting until after midnight to cross the main street outside and buy things. Its not that I was so afraid to walk around all the time, it just wasn't enjoyable with lots of people around. It was more relaxing to walk the streets of Jerusalem at night. There were less eyes looking at you with suspicion after midnight.

If you didn't have to go to work, where were you going to go in the morning during a war? I went to the Old City a bunch of times with friends. Long walks in Gan Sacher, a nearby park, were relieving. I slept late. I waited all day for midnight to 5am when I could open my windows and enjoy the quiet sounds of the city.

We all learned to take the long way home to paraphrase from the Supertramp song. I remember walking along the lesser-travelled streets from Rehavia to Nachlaot and other neighborhoods. By the summer of 2003, I decided it was time for me to move on. I always wanted to live in the Negev - for ideological as well as practical reasons.

Since 2004, many people are starting to come back. By 2006, I've heard from quite a few friends from this period who're back in Israel. I love getting a call in the middle of the day from an old friend who says, "Hey Kenny, I'm back in Israel and wanted to say hi!" Israel's economy has improved tremendously since then. I hope this brings more of my friends back. Of the two high school in Israel programs that I went on in my teens, one closed during the Intifada and the other made it and is stronger than ever. In 2001, I was at the last graduation for the Pardess Chana Agricultural School American Program and hear that The Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (called AMHSI in my day) is bringing more young Americans to Israel than ever.

Looking back, that was the most intense experience I've ever had. I've never seen the world so stressed on a day-to-day level. Anyone who knows me knows I'm an optimist who knows things are usually getting better. Reality never looked so gloomy in 2002-2003. Jerusalem is an intense city to begin with and war made it even more intense. I'm glad I took the above photos and wrote a bit about the snowfall of 2003 - it was the most fun I had in my two years in Jerusalem.

There are many places where you can read news and commentary about what went on during those years. This is what it looked like to me.

It took me the better part of a year at Kibbutz Ruhama to relax!

If you're interested in Israel, visit my other related pages...
Israel Culture in Israel Israeli Music Hadera Arad Eilat The Negev Kibbutz Ruhama The Israel Trail Jerusalem during Passover 2009 Aliyah Tips

Kenny Sahr