11 Shvat 5781 / Sunday, January 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Beshalah
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Our Winter Wonderland

Wintertime may be the toughest part of the year, but in Israel it is a time of blessing, gratitude, hope, and closeness to G-d. Just imagine how great the rest of the year is!?


The best time to reflect upon winter is in the spring. The weather is pleasant. The joy of being able to go outside without a coat is equaled by the realization that it will be this way for another six months. Before I take out my mini-barbeque, I want to share something I discovered: There is something very special about winter in Israel. There are six special qualities about winter in the Holy Land.
One: It is a tremendous blessing when winter begins. Water is our lifeblood. If it doesn’t rain enough, times get tough. Prices go up for water, and virtually every manufactured good produced by factories that need lots of water to run. Every drop of rain is a blessing of abundance from G-d to His children. Produce will be abundant, hearty, and affordable for everyone. When it snows, it is a nationwide celebration. The snow quickly melts and gushes down the streets like a raging river. In the eyes of every resident, our paths are literally covered in gold. Our spiritual leaders recognize this. After the last snowfall, the chief Rabbis of Israel requested that every citizen express their thanks to Hashem by giving money to needy families who need help heating their homes.
Two: National Family Day. Imagine yourself mayor of an Israeli city. You have to decide whether part of this year’s budget will go to buying new snow plows, or providing subsidies for struggling families. You know the need for plows comes once every five years, while the keeping children warm is a responsibility that comes each winter. What’s the most practical decision? Let the snow fall. It will melt within a day or two. That’s why a snow day in Israel, even a light one, is a family day. Almost everything is closed, and we all stay home together.
Three: A lot of time outs. The winter may last 15 weeks from December to mid-March, but it is rarely that long. Right in the middle of winter there can appear a spell of 60-70 degree (Fahrenheit) days with bright sunshine and dry roads. Israel is a small country with many climates. From Jerusalem, It is less than an hour drive to the Dead Sea, Beit Shemesh, or Tel Aviv where the weather is warm and humid most of the time. To escape the frost, my wife and I dipped our feet in the Dead Sea -- on January 31!
Four: Quick Turnaround times. Temperatures average 45-50 degrees (Fahrenheit) in January, so the snow melts quickly. In areas like Jerusalem where the altitude is higher, the snow usually lasts no more than 48-72 hours after a storm. In lower altitude areas like Beit Shemesh, within 24 hours you won’t see a single snowflake on the ground. Outside of the Golan Heights, the snow rarely morphs into ice.
Five: The best hot chocolate in the world – and the cheapest. From a regular container of chocolate powder, you can make 36 servings of hot cocoa. The container costs ten shekels. Add in milk, half a scoop of brown sugar, two drops of rum flavoring, then pour in the hot water, mix, and you have the best cup of hot chocolate for less than twenty five cents per cup.
Six: The beginning, middle, and end of the season are all marked by holidays.Chanukah ushers in the winter. The harshest part of the season is marked by Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees, and a celebration of the produce of the Land of Israel. It’s a Divine reminder of what all the rains He brings us will bear and how the outside will feel when it does. Purim, the holiday of happiness, signals the beginning of warmer times. By now you can feel the weather changing. Pesach, the celebration of liberation, marks the official end of winter. The holidays, seasons, and months of the Jewish calendar were designed perfectly for the Land it was meant to be observed in.
Wintertime may be the toughest part of the year, but in Israel it is a time of blessing, gratitude, hope, and closeness to G-d. Just imagine how great the rest of the year is!
* * *
Dovber Halevi is the author of Sex, Religion, and the Middle East, a book about personal holiness and happiness. He lives in Israel with his wife and three children.

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