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Lifetakes: White Hero

Rivka Junger

The whole world was spinning, I saw myself turning in a kaleidoscope of hats, gloves, and spraying snow. And then it went quiet

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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now arrived late this year. But when it finally fell, along came the bliss of standing in a warm home, holding a piping hot tea, and gazing at the white wonderland Hashem created while we slept.

Year after year, this first-morning-of-snow is as delightful as it was when I was just a little girl. But for the past six years, it has taken on new meaning. No longer is it just about gazing at how when Hashem turns droplets into flakes, the world’s soot and darkness are blanketed with peace and sparkling white. Seven years ago, something happened that turned this beautiful tableau of nature into a deeper experience.

Part of growing up in Vienna is the annual winter trips to the nearby resort of Semmering. For some, this means skiing; for others, tobogganing or sledging; and there are those for whom Semmering means just trudging through knee-deep snow in the mountain air. But for all, it’s a must.

Ask a Viennese-bred child to describe winter memories in Semmering and he will wax nostalgic about a tiny village less than 50 miles from home. The hot teas at the café in the valley, lunch at the (no-longer-existent) kosher restaurant, sleeping in the luxurious Panhans hotel or in a cheap guesthouse.

Although it’s no longer the practice today, I still wanted to give my children these experiences. Over the years, I tried to make winter day trips: sledging and snowball fights in Semmering.

January 1, 2011, saw us arriving at the foot of the Hirschenkogel, a mountain of humble height, but with an exciting route for tobogganists. Wanting to show my boys a good time and revive memories of my own childhood, I joined them on the sledges down the mountain. My eldest went with his cousin, while my second son opted to join me.

I hopped onto the sledge. And that’s when I realized that tobogganing at the age of 10, or even 15, feels so easy and harmless. Do so ten years later, as a mother, and your heart suddenly takes residence in your throat. As we gave the first turn on the slope, my mind screamed: Stop right now, what on earth did you get yourself into!? But my throat decided to go rogue and laughingly proclaimed, “Isn’t this fun? We’re going to have a blast all the way down the mountain!”

What I didn’t realize was that the extreme low temperatures had turned the slopes into ice. No amount of digging boots into the ground was going to stop the sledge. Down we went, turn swish, left turn, swoosh, right turn… It was fun. And then it wasn’t fun at all. We were going fast, faster and faster yet… we were hurtling down the mountain, out of control. I dug my heels into the ice deeper and deeper. Make it stop, stop!

The next thing I knew, the whole world was spinning, I saw myself turning in a kaleidoscope of hats, gloves, and spraying snow. And then it went quiet. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 568)

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