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Too Cold for Comfort

Aharon Granot

The same country vaunted as the start-up capital of the world houses a frightening number of desperately poor citizens — some of whom literally sleep outdoors on damp mattresses atop sopping wet cardboard as they try to keep warm under layers of rags. Yet even a punishingly cold winter hasn’t coaxed Israel’s homeless to vacate their waterlogged street corners for the heated hostels extended by a government that can’t seem to bridge the yawning gap between its savvy haves and hopeless have-nots.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

With yet another forecast predicting sleet, howling winds, and a week of nocturnal frost, these are the coldest Israeli winter nights I can remember. As I step from the warm car into the freezing night, I can’t fathom how Uri is surviving a punishing winter season with no home to call his own. I find Uri at the entrance to the Carmel shuk inTelAviv, his gaunt frame wrapped in piles of rags, with two thin mattresses separating him from the icy cold sidewalk. The odor that he emanates, the result of weeks without a hot shower, is somewhat dulled by the cold wind blowing in the opposite direction. Together with Magen David Adom volunteers making the rounds to Israel’s homeless distributing sleeping bags on this frigid night, I discover that Uri had done his best to prepare for the harsh weather: the supermarket cart that is his closet, his house, the place where he stores the remnants of his life, is loaded with additional piles of rags and even a few old coats donated by some kind souls. Just that morning he’d received another shabby mattress as an additional shield from the flooded sidewalks drenching him. But he thinks upward too: “When I hear that stormy weather is on the way,” he says, “I try to arrange for a roof over my head.” For Uri that doesn’t mean a shelter in the conventional sense, but rather a spot on the sidewalk where there’s an awning or overhang that will protect him from the rain. One of the volunteers offers him a warm sleeping bag, and Uri takes it with a trembling hand. Within a second, the sleeping bag disappears into the shopping cart closet. When his current configuration of rags gets hopelessly soaked, he’ll inaugurate the sleeping bag. 

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