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Notes from a Small Planet: Jerusalem of White

Basia Yoffe
March 3, 2014
by Basia Yoffe Photo by Ezra Kaplan BasiaON THE MORNING of December 12th, I found myself awake very early in the morning, suffering from jet lag after a flight to Israel from New York. The streets were deserted as I walked down Jaffa Road to the Kotel. Even the shuk (marketplace) in the old city was deserted, with only two or three shopkeepers opening up as I made my way to the remnants of the Temple. The plaza of the Kotel itself was developing a thin white covering. The air was damp and cold as I returned to my hostel, the streets still deserted and dusted with snowflakes. Of the people I saw on the street, half had huge, professional looking cameras and were trying to catch the rarity of snow in Jerusalem. To me, it was a charming greeting to Israel and a memory that I would take as I traveled north the next day. That feeling did not last very long, however. The snow did not stop. It kept getting heavier. A sort of discomfort in me began to grow into panic. As a New Yorker for the last thirty-one years of my life, I expect certain things to happen when it snows. City workers put out salt; sidewalks are shoveled and cleared. Snowplows begin to remove snow from the streets. In Jerusalem that day: Nothing. Worried about the roof of the hostel collapsing, I offered to help shovel up there. My offer was greeted with strange looks, as if I were talking of some mystery. Jaffa Road is a pedestrian mall, except for the trolley that runs up and down the street. It has the "clang" sound of a traditional trolley although it is a very modern, light rail transport. Every time that "clang" went past, a nervous feeling would go through my body, for fear that the trolley would get stuck in the snow. This image was usually followed by: Why do I think I'm smarter than the municipality? Well, just after noon, after hours of heavy snow, the Jaffa Road trolley got stuck at the corner of King George and Jaffa. I stood out there, peering down the street and realizing that Jerusalem, and all of Israel, had no real idea of how to deal with this weather. Then I ran back inside the hostel and booked three additional nights. Basia was stranded in Jerusalem. That night the army had to rescue people stranded in their cars on the two roads that lead out of Jerusalem to the rest of Israel (only one of which is within the green line). THIS WAS PART of the wacky weather that has borne the signature of climate change in recent years. Jerusalem's response was like the world's: too slow, or even non-existent, in the face of an obvious crisis. I had gone to Israel to visit friends and hear what they were thinking and saying about climate change; it was disconcerting to have the issue itself slap me in the face as soon as I arrived. Like-what-youre-readingTwo days after returning home, I attended the Northeast Organic Farmers' Association Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York. Nothing could have lifted my spirits more. Climate change in northern latitudes is more perceptible, and the farmers of the north country have every intention of being as proactive about it as they can be. On page 26 of the Conference guide, I found a listing for a workshop entitled, "Grower to Grower Roundtable: Drought- and Flood-Proofing Your Farm." Someone from Cornell University was there to offer methods. Farmers spoke freely about climate change, using the phrase more than I have heard it used in any setting. They spoke of the ways they were adapting to it. One of the participants was Shamu Sadeh of the Adamah Farm of Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT. It was a point of pride for me to hear a Jewish farmer speak who is clearly on the frontlines of protecting our food supply from climate change. And Shamu was not the only Jewish farmer there. Jewish law, after all, is in large part agricultural. Marion Stein, a member of the contemporary Jewish environmental movement, in a presentation I heard her give at the Kane Street Synagogue, observed that there is much overlap between Shmita, the Jewish tradition of giving the Earth a sabbath every seven years, and modern practices of permaculture, which environmentalists popularize as a way to preserve the Earth. While farmers are part of the movement to adapt to climate change, they are also advocating against fossil fuels, especially the use of hydrofracking to extract gas, which they oppose, in large part, because of its impact on the water supply. On Sunday, March 2nd, youth from across North America visibly joined the fight: 398 young people were arrested in front of the White House protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline. Students are also leading the movement to divest from fossil fuels. The city of San Francisco is divesting $16 billion of its retirement funds of fossil fuel stocks. New York City will soon follow, with its $187 billion of retirement funds. There are things to do, large and small — enough for everyone to get involved in the fight against climate change, and to be a part of the future. Basia Yoffe conducts the “Notes from a Small Planet” column in Jewish Currents; she is also a member of our magazine’s editorial board and a very active activist.