Dreaming of a White Jerusalem
by Michael Widlanski
Many dream of Jerusalem—from David and Maimonides to Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain—but when Israelis dream of Jerusalem, we always dress her in white.
Snow suits Jerusalem. She is our Snow White. It is the color of purity for a city that represents God’s grace and prayers that are sometimes answered, sometimes not.
King David prayed to build a city and God’s Temple. David got part of his wish, but Abraham Lincoln and Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi (among many other leaders and rabbis) apparently never got here. Had they seen Jerusalem covered in snow, they would certainly have felt blessed.
Snow enhances Jerusalem’s special light—an effect that mystics, jaundiced journalists and sharp-eyed photographers alike have detected.
“When you photograph or film in Jerusalem, you have to factor in one-f-stop beyond what your light meter tells you, or else it won’t work,” my late friend, film-maker Adir Zik, told me many times. Adir stressed that when mystics and cabalists “see the light” in Jerusalem, they are actually noticing a real fact of life.
For most of the year, Jerusalem’s natural colors are, as Israel’s great composer Naomi Shemer beautifully wrote: “Jerusalem of gold, and of copper and of light.” Yet, the Jerusalem of Gold is enhanced by white, like a bride.
Waking at dawn to several inches of snow in Jerusalem means encountering an ethereal glow replacing the usual wintry darkness before sunrise, and when the sun emerges on Zion’s silent, snowy streets and the walls of the Old City, the effect is magical, even hypnotic.
Jerusalem has always been the stuff of our dreams and our desires, especially for Jews in the Diaspora who ended the Passover seder with words Le-shana ha-ba’a b-yerushalayim: “Next year in Jerusalem.”
This prayer clearly spread to many non-Jews who took the “shining city on the hill” and “wait till next year” as their own prayer for a better life, a better result.
“Wait till next year” became the anthem of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, a great baseball team that symbolized the dreams of the common man, a team that was the first to include non-Whites as players (Jackie Robinson) , and a team that seemingly could not quite win the championship at the end of the season.
Many Dodger fans (including my mother) were Jewish, and their Jewishly-infused “Next Year in Jerusalem” morphed into “wait till next year”: a universal prayer.
It even reached Chicago and Boston, where the fans of the seemingly cursed Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox were converted to praying for a miracle.
Snow in Jerusalem is, of course, no miracle, but it can have miraculous effects, like bringing together people of many different backgrounds and political points of view.
Praying for snow in Jerusalem has become something of a tradition among Israelis—a prayer uniting the more religious Jerusalemites and the usually secular folk from Tel Aviv and Haifa who like to visit Jerusalem when its stones are softened by a little of the white, hexagonal flakes.
There is nothing like watching the child-like joy of the supposedly sophisticated coastal Israelis shlepping snow balls back to Tel Aviv and Netanya.
Perhaps we Israelis value the snow because it is most tangible form of water—the force of life in this parched part of the world. It is a dream come true, a dream that can be touched and even formed into a snowman or a snowball to throw at friends.
We can play in the softly frozen water with our children and our dogs without fear of drowning anything but our cares. It is a dream come true, that keeps our minds off the as-yet-unfulfilled dreams of reaching an “Arab Spring” or finding moderates among our neighbors.
Dr. Michael Widlanski grew up playing in the snow in New York’s Central Park. He is, an expert on Arab politics and communications, and author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. A former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, Dr. Widlanski was Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security and teaches at Bar Ilan University.