Jerusalem, for ages, has been known as the city of gold, a place where old meets new, where forests meet deserts, where once a year, the winter winds bless our holy city with a storm, and the ancient hills become wrapped in pristine, fluffy white snow.
One of the things I miss the most since I moved to Israel from Ukraine is a proper winter, walking and playing in the snow, ice skating, and enjoying the chilly winter winds.
Now, since I moved to Jerusalem from the central shore area, I get to enjoy nice weather once a year. During these times, Jerusalemites of all ages bundle up to enjoy a nice stroll in the snow, throw snowballs at each other and build snowmen, even if only for a few hours.
Last week, during the last days of January 2022, storm Alfis hit Israel and the mountain tops received their yearly white blanket once again. I decided that this is the perfect time to write about Jerusalem in the snow. A beautiful and rare phenomenon that I find to be one of the most spectacular occurrences here, and to share my experiences and endeavors throughout the years during this cold, and wonderfully gloomy time of year. Throughout this post, you’ll find photos that I have taken over the years, not always with the best camera or phone, hence the lower image quality.
If, by any chance, you arrive in Jerusalem during the winter and are lucky enough to experience the snow, here are some tips and advice on what to expect while walking in the winter Holyland.
When the snow begins to pile up, it’s important to note that transportation interference will occur in and out of the city. However, ever since the 2013 debacle, the municipality has been more prepared for snowy weather and usually clears the road quickly. In any case, it’s still worth keeping an eye on the weather updates.
The easiest way to get around town during snow is via the light rail, which usually operates more or less uninterrupted, unless it’s a crazy snow event like the one in December 2013, but more on that later.
I recommend keeping track of notices regarding Highway 1, the main road to and from Tel Aviv. It is usually closed during the main portion of the snowfall. Once the snow stops coming down, and the streets have been plowed, they usually reopen the highway and city roads.
3000 years of History buried under snow
While we usually imagine Jerusalem and the middle east, with their golden limestone architecture, as hot, barren areas, with a camel here and there, an event like this makes it even more unique. Seeing the old City of Jerusalem, all those layers of history, battles, and different cultures all peaceful and united under the solemn white carpet of snow, is magical to me, almost unbelievable, and extremely beautiful. People from all cultures enjoy it together, building snowmen, throwing snowballs at each other, or just enjoying our beautiful city and taking tonnes of pictures.
At the beginning of 2013, Sarel and I lived in downtown Jerusalem, near Damascus gate. This year, as we’ll soon find out, would be one of the snowiest years of the century.
2013 – The year of snow
In January of 2013, approximately fifteen centimeters of snow fell on downtown Jerusalem. Back then, we lived in the Musrarah neighborhood, next to the Italian hospital with its’ unique architectural style influenced by the Florentine renaissance architecture of the beginning of the 20th century. Equipped with a camera and my pregnant belly, we headed to the old city to enjoy some of its’ beautiful sites in this unusual scenery. Back then I used a Minolta Z1 camera, which served me well throughout the years until it fell and broke on one of my mushroom hunting excursions, some years later.
From our quaint 19th century apartment on Ha’Neviim street, we strolled to the Old City walls, stopping at the Notredame Jerusalem center across from the “New Gate.” Like its Italian neighbor, it was built near the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century as part of the “pilgrimage” contest between the European powers in Jerusalem. Each left its mark on the city with its beautiful and unique architecture.
As we wandered the city, the snow continued falling from time to time, which in itself is unique since the temperatures during the day are usually not low enough for snow, and it mostly comes down at night, a hint at what is in store for us later this year…
Old City of Jerusalem in the Snow
Passing through the Old City, we visited some of the most notable and beautiful sites the city has to offer.
I don’t remember which gate we entered through, Jaffa Gate or the New Gate. Still, they both would take us to the Shuk (open market) and on to the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian quarter built on top of the Temple of Aphrodite and the Roman Forum during the 4th century CE. To the right of the entryway, you can see what is called the “Golgotha Hill,” where it is believed Jesus was crucified. Inside the Rotunda, you will find Jesus’ empty tomb, where he is considered to be buried and later resurrected or, as we gamers say, respawned.
Further on our tour, we went north and to the right, back toward the Shuk, passing by the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, built at the end of the 19th century, which took us on to one of the main streets of the city, the Cardo running toward the Jewish quarter.
One of my favorite places to visit during my walk in the Jewish quarter is the Crusader era complex, in which you can see and enjoy the beautiful Romanesque-style ruins of the Church of St. Marry of the Germans and its’ beautiful hospice, serving today as a romantic gothic style garden.
As you can see during the snowy days, all the trees and plants are collapsed under the weight of the snow, but during regular days it’s a great place to stop and enjoy a nice break from the touristy sites of the city. The location is usually empty and suitable for having a quiet mid-day, or night, picnic. In the vicinity of this crusader complex, there are some of the cities most devastated and morbid sites; the “burnt house” and the archaeological museum where you can find the remains of the second temple period neighborhood. They were all ravaged by the Romans during the dreaded year of 70 C.E, the time of the “accidental” destruction of the Holy Temple.
But more on that later in a future post…
The hospice garden can be entered from the stairway leading from the Jewish quarter to the Wailing Wall and the beautiful and familiar sight of the Haram Al-Sharif, the Dome of the Rock.
Am I the only one who feels that there is something so very unique about this city blanketed in snow?
Maybe because it’s so rare, possibly because it’s not something that we usually imagine, or perhaps it’s just the peaceful feeling surrounding the city because of the snow. On days like these, the news is quiet from all the conflicts and concentrates on the beauty and peacefulness of the city.
If you are in Israel and it’s about to snow in Jerusalem, don’t miss it! I promise you will enjoy the ride, and it will be an experience worth remembering.
When planning your visit to Jerusalem during these snowy days, I would suggest booking accommodations within walking distance from, or inside the Old City, so you won’t be dependent on public transportation and closed roads.
Another plus is that when the sun sets, you will be within walking distance from some of the coolest bars in town, so you’ll be able to warm yourselves up and have some fun at night.
The Jerusalem Blizzard of 2013
A few years ago, we moved away from downtown Jerusalem to a small town on the outskirts of the city. Since then I no longer get to see the snow-covered city, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy it any less. The town I live in is on a foresty mountain peak; therefore, I get way more snow, which is super cool.
The year 2013 turned out to be the second hardest snowfall Israel had ever seen in a century. It was this year, on a Thursday night, the 13th of December, that the first snowflakes began to fall. We were very excited when it began to snow and immediately dressed ourselves up for a brisk nighttime walk in the snow with our half-year-old baby boy tied to me in a sling.
Little did we know how the rest of the weekend would unfold. As we went to bed it was still snowing heavily. When we woke up in the morning we realized how heavy the snow really was. The weight of it broke the trees in our yard, and throughout the village, falling on electric wires, cutting off the power to our home. Everything in our house was dependent upon electricity even the stove. We realized exactly how bad the situation really was when we couldn’t make our morning coffee.
Back then, we had just taken up the Bushcraft hobby, I guess it’s a side effect of living next to a forest, so handy in survival techniques we used an empty can and improvised a mini stove which we lit with some bits of wood.
Unfortunately, it seemed we hadn’t watched enough Bear Grills episodes to know that it would require a butt load of time to get a decent cup of coffee, so we decided to look for a better solution. We headed to our friend’s house who live on the other side of the town and still had electricity, to enjoy a proper coffee.
As the snow piled up throughout the area, the city began to experience widespread power outages. We had no way of heating our house or cooking. So, our coffee visit turned into a weekend stay as our kind and generous friends invited us to stay with them and pass the storm in a nice warm house with their good company next to a cozy fireplace.
It snowed for three days straight, resulting in approximately one meter of snow, a sight rarely seen in these parts. The last time an event like this happened in Israel was in 1950 when the snow reached the parts of the country that barely ever see snow. That year the whole country was covered in white when, as I read from old reports, it snowed even in the coastal cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv, the desert, and even the Dead Sea, which is about 500 meters below sea level.
By Sunday morning the snow had finally stopped and the sun was shining over Jerusalem once again. That’s when we headed home. Unfortunately, the electricity hadn’t returned yet, so we packed our bags and headed to my parents’ house on the coast by train, passing through the mountain route and enjoying the beautiful scenery of our area.
Some alternative snow activities
The next winter we were blessed with snow again, not as heavy but still plentiful. This year we decided to go extreme and headed to the forest, opened a tarp, and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and tea by the fire.
Our little boy decided it was a good time to take a nap in the snow and after he woke up from his nap he made sure we had all the ingredients needed for some nice Hubezah pancakes.
Hubezah or Malva in English is a weed that grows everywhere here. It’s super tasty and healthy and you can make many dishes with it, be it pancakes, quiche, stuffed with rice or meat, or just add the young leaves to your salad.
What Goths and Larpers do in the snow
In the past year, as our tribe grew, we got too lazy to go anywhere with the whole gang and after several years of no real snow, the past couple of years we seemed to get a quite nice share, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity for a nice photoshoot while the kids played outside in the snow.
This year I decided to do one goth look with a dress I thrifted for about 5 bucks and shoulder pads I made a while ago and sewed them to the dress. I also added a feather-style chocker to the look and the horns headdress I made from aluminum foil and some hot glue. Let me know if you want me to make a tutorial for it.
The second look I went for was inspired by the night elf druid gear from World of Warcraft, one of my favorite games which I used to spend so many hours in front of, that I could totally pass as one of the undead.
To sum up, if you are visiting Israel during the winter and have the chance to experience the snow, I hope this post will be helpful to you and you will be lucky enough to enjoy Jerusalem in quite different and unique colors.
For those of you visiting the city during winter, especially after rainy weather or the snow, and you wish to explore the rural and foresty parts of Jerusalem, I would suggest visiting Refaim Stream in the south-western part of the city, next to the Roman Villa park, Ein Yael. The Saturday after the snow I found myself visiting the park for our weekly covid test and decided to take a walk with the kids and explore the area, seeing the stream in full flow for the first time.
Here you will find a beautiful promenade along the stream, where you can enjoy a nice stroll. The place is perfect for visiting with kids since it has a lovely playground built along the promenade and a lot of space for them to run around. The stream is a wadi, dry during most of the year, and flows only after snowy days or during the rainy season. You can also visit the nearby Ein Yael Museum (Yael Spring,) and the adjacent Biblical Zoo and be sure that by the time you get back home or to your hotel, they’ll be so tired you’ll be able to send them straight to the bed without a fuss and enjoy a nice quiet beer or tea.