May 2, 2012

Snow, sandals and sandwich bags

“I found a carrot for my snowman’s nose."

Talya plodded though the snow, crouching down to perfect her masterpiece.  I leaned forward, curious. How could she produce a carrot on this frozen mountaintop? Was it some kid’s leftovers from last summer’s picnic? I examine it closely and see she has found an orange water bottle cap. Her brother Shaya is envious and goes off on his own garbage collection. Within seconds he too produces a cap.  It is  blue. Guess this sparkling white patch of snow is not so pristine.

But this is not the Alps, the Laurentians or the Rockies. This is Israel. It is April and we are on top of Mount Hermon. 

Boys with black velvet kippot crowd around our snowmen that now stretch out plastic straw arms and stand at attention topped by bright red bottle caps.

“Abba. Look what they are doing!”

Is there a word in Hebrew for snowman? These boys have obviously never seen such a clever thing before.  And in order to create their own version, they throw off their shoes and slide across the snow in stocking feet before squatting down to work. Their father produces plastic sandwich bags and instructs his boys to use them as mittens.

The sun is blinding up here. Shrieks reach a high pitch as adults and kids hurl themselves down the slope on plastic toboggans. A man in an orange vest hopelessly tries to keep order, using a megaphone to shout out instructions.

“Walk up the hill to the right,” he trumpets. “Boy in the black pants, ‘Zooz, move!’”

Too late. A woman in a headscarf flies into him and they tumble down the hill, toboggan flying ahead of them.

Almost everyone here is wearing black pants. It seems as if half of B’nai Brak has piled onto busses to come out and play in the snow. And all the girls have gray socks. They too are wearing plastic sandwich bags, but these are inside their Shabbos shoes.

Foofzig shekalim,” the megaphone blasts. This Arab guy is trying out his Yiddish. A group of giggling B’nai Brak girls rush over to rent a toboggan.

Khamsum shekalim,” he screams again, this time in Arabic.  Arab families pile onto their toboggans and play bumper cars down the slope. One boy runs after his brother and pushes a healthy dose of snow right down his back. Large knit kippas fly down the hill as a group of Nah Nach Nachman Breslevers laugh alongside the Arabs.

Everyone here is having fun. Together.

I look at the streams of people arriving from the chair lift and can imagine the chaos that will ensue when they will all slide down and all walk up--all in each others' paths. Not so different from driving a car in this country.

“It’s getting crowded up here,” I announce. “Time to go back down.”

I take a photo of the snowmen. My daughter looks back at “Frosty” dejectedly, already suffering from snowman separation anxiety. The day is heating up and I don’t give Frosty a long lifespan. I keep this information to myself as we head to the chair lift.

As our cable car ambles down, we see streams of people coming up. Young men in black hats, their wives in shiny sheitels sitting beside them. I see Arab girls in sandals, their bare toes swinging freely though the air.  How will they walk through the snow, I wonder, fascinated.

I turn my head in shock as I see some boys coming towards me, the metal bar on their cable car raised. They are completely exposed with nothing but the clear mountain air between them and the jagged rocks far below. I gulp and caution them. In the next cable car is a woman with an infant car seat nestled beside her. My eyes widen. And then a young girl passes by with a tiny two-year-old beside her. She could fall out at any moment, I whisper to myself. Young boys pass by us singing “Gesher Tzar Meod.”

Life is a narrow bridge. And we must not fear at all.  This cable car ride has proven to me that these people officially fear nothing in the world but Hashem.

Preferring to look away from such danger, I focus on the ground far below. Where else in the world can you look down from a chair lift and count kippot? A multitude of kippa clips gave caution to the wind, releasing kippot from heads, releasing a volley of black shooting stars.

“One, two, three, four,” Talya and I chime out. We then count woolen hats and dejected single mittens all strewn across Mount Hermon.

As we rest our wet cold feet  in the car and drive down the mountain towards the warmth and heat near the Jordan River,  I think about our morning. I cannot decide whether the snow or the people were more fascinating. But with certainty, I do know is that this is a country of extremes; where else can Arabs, secular Jews and the Orthodox laugh together as they play in snow, then eat by a gurgling river set in a lush  canopied forest--all on the same day?

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