Sunday, January 20, 2013


We were looking forward to the bar mitzvah. Jeff Garrett and Elana Bloom - who lived (and still do) in Pittsburgh - were making their second son's bar mitzvah in Jerusalem and we were invited to spend Shabbat with them in the hotel. "We" being Mother, as well as Frances and I.

We have known the Blooms forever and this is not the place to expound on that.* Suffice it to say that we were looking forward to participating in Benjamin Baruch's bar mitzvah. This was thirteen years ago next week.

At the time, we were still living in Gush Etzion, about fifteen minutes south of Jerusalem. Mother was still in Arad, about an hour south of us. And I was still working in Yeroham, about half an hour's drive on the other side of Arad. So the plan was pretty simple - I would pick up Mother Thursday after work and bring her to our house and Friday we'd go to Jerusalem.

Walla Maps
There was some talk of snow, but we were not concerned. Why? - I really can't recall. I guess it was our "We go about our business" attitude.

So I picked up Mother after work and we left Arad about four-thirty on our 71 km (~44 miles) trip north. The drive was uneventful most of the way. A bit of flurries as we passed east of Hevron. As we passed Highway 35, the snow was sticking.

At this point I was not yet worried, but I did want to get through as fast as possible. We had about twelve km to go. It was getting dark.

Neither our drivers nor our cars are equipped for snow and at the risk of sounding discriminatory, the rural Arab population is worse at this than the rest of us.

The road going down the hill from the Se'ir junction (road 3517) was not looking good. At the bottom, the road curved left before ascending to the northern entrance to Halhul, and cars were skidding. Others tried to pass them. Traffic stopped for a bit but eventually began moving up the hill in fits and starts. 

Mapa maps (click to enlarge)
It was snowing heavily and it was cold. We were well dressed for the weather, but still.

Everyone had the sense to drive slowly, but not everyone had the sense to stay in his lane. There was only one in each direction, but people drove on both shoulders, so that meant four lanes. At least.

We worked our way up the hill and began the approach to the descent past the junction near Karmei Zur. ("Near" is relative. It was not a distance we could consider walking if we got stuck. Which we did.) GRIDLOCK.

We sat. The army was not in evidence. There were a few policemen and I borrowed a phone from one to check in home, five minutes away. It kept snowing, but I couldn't keep the car running indefinitely, so it got colder. I tried to keep the windshield clear, just to prevent the effects of claustrophobia. The wiper on my side broke.

No one was moving. Mother was handling it pretty well. She pulled out a bottle of chocolate liquor that she had brought for us. We drank about half of it. From the bottle.

The snow kept coming down. Some of the young local Arabs were out trying to direct traffic, such as it was, and occasionally there would be some movement in the opposite lane. Lanes. I kept thinking that these guys are future Hamas recruits, while our army was slow.

The emergency center in Kiryat Arba
By 2 AM, mother was not doing so well. I eventually got the army to pack her into a track vehicle of some sort and take her back to Kiryat Arba. That allowed me to leave the car and join a group of tourists in the bus behind us. They had heat. I had some food and was happy to give it to a pregnant woman on the bus. They were going home on an early Sunday flight, which they had begun to worry about missing.

At 7 AM, they began evacuating everyone to Kiryat Arba, using army vehicles. They said to leave the cars with the keys and they took us to the emergency center in Kiryat Arba where they would get us organized for Shabbat. There was no talk of going anywhere, even though it was still early Friday morning.

Mother was at the emergency center being looked after as well as could be expected, considering the numbers of people involved. The local folks arranged places for people to stay. Many were taken to local families. A large Beduin family was housed in the yeshiva. I walked over to Zvi and Celia Ofer's apartment to see if they minded having two guests. Zvi and I had been roommates in Jerusalem thirty-one years earlier.

Mother, seventy-three at the time and handling it all like quite the trooper, was able to walk the couple of blocks to their place. I don't remember much about the rest of that day. I was able to call home. Frances did not try to go to the bar mitzvah. Jerusalem was pretty much snowed in, as was Elazar.
These two photos by Moshe Rubin, Jerusalem
Jerusalem on that very day

For Shabbat, they gave us some clothes that didn't fit, but that didn't matter. In the evening we stayed in. In the morning, Zvi stayed in but I wanted to go to shul, so he gave me directions and off I went.

It was the Shabbat of my own bar mitzvah and when I saw that the gabbai was someone I had known years before in Chicago, I asked him if I could read. He agreed. I see this fellow about once a year, usually at weddings of mutual friends. Most recently at a Chicago funeral in Jerusalem. Every time he sees me, he says "You remember the last time I saw you, when it snowed and you read your bar mitzvah?" No matter how many years go by, that remains the last time we saw each other.

We really had a very pleasant Shabbat and Mother stayed in touch with Celia and Zvi . Afterwards, we learned that the army had towed all the cars up to Gush Etzion and one of Zvi's sons drove us there on the reasonably-cleared road.

Some of the cars had been partially trashed and broken into by the future Hamasniks. The government insisted that these were attacks of vandalism rather than "nationalist hostility" so there was no compensation. I sued and won.
* Two and a half hours after I wrote that sentence last Wednesday evening, I received a notice that Elana's mother Mrs. Evelyn Bloom had passed away. May her soul be bound in life.

1 comment:

  1. Whenever you speak or write about your mother, I take away the impression of her great dignity, and that was what shone through for me, the one time I was privileged to meet her, A"H.