I am, admittedly, an outlier: I love the snow and its accompanying cold and silence. I find this a potent recipe for tranquility, which quickly enters the realm of the spiritual. This year, the New England winter just didn’t deliver enough of this for me, so I had to get my fix elsewhere. My family already had a two-week-long trip to Israel planned to visit my in-laws, so my husband and I booked a side trip to northern Sweden for four days, while our daughter stayed for some special quality time with her grandparents and great-grandmother.
We are incredibly fortunate to be able to travel to Israel on a regular basis. My in-laws live in the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and we usually plan one “Jerusalem day” each visit but rarely stay overnight there. However, as we needed to be in Jerusalem quite early one morning in order to celebrate with Boston-area friends as their son received and donned tefillin for the first time, we had the pleasure of spending the previous night in Jerusalem. This gave us the opportunity to wander and explore at a more leisurely pace and to experience the magic of the city by night. Our Jerusalem experience culminated with sharing in our friends’ simcha at the Kotel, where holiness is so palpable that people come from all over the world to experience it. It was undoubtedly special to share this important moment with our friends in this most holy of places, but I was seeking a different kind of spirituality on this vacation, one that would take me out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life to the natural wonder, quiet and solitude of the Arctic.
A few months into my relationship with my now-husband, he was in Houston for his cousin’s wedding, while I rode through the snow-covered Czech countryside on an orchestra tour. I recall writing him a letter from the bus, expressing my sense of awe that Hashem had dressed the world in white for his cousin’s wedding day, while silently appending a wish of the same for my future wedding day. It didn’t matter that Houston was half a world away from the glittering fields before me; I viewed it as the entire world celebrating with the newlyweds.
Despite a blizzard that had arrived during my bat mitzvah weekend in the middle of March of 1993, delivering three feet of snow and sending my relatives running, I wasn’t deterred, and I tried very hard to convince all interested parties that a winter wedding was a fabulous idea. No one bought it, though. A winter wedding in New England clearly wasn’t going to cut it with my husband’s Israeli and Texan guests, so we quickly switched gears and went for June. It was a beautiful event, with the requisite rain for luck, but it certainly didn’t cure me of my penchant for a winter wonderland.
My husband doesn’t share my natural affinity for the cold, and I believe the idea for our trip to the Arctic began with his mention of a desire to see the Aurora Borealis (we did), but this was like dangling a carrot in front of a horse (we also went on a moose safari on horseback, but no carrots were present!). After one glance at the website of the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, I became obsessed. My husband, being the selfless guy he is, was a good sport—no, a great sport! He even booked us one night in a “cold room” (read: a room carved from ice!) at the hotel, his only condition that it had to be one with an adjoining warm bathroom, in case he needed to sleep in there (he didn’t). We both survived our night inside the cold room, thankfully learning only later that our assigned room was the coldest of all, due to the sheer quantity of ice contained within it!
Have I mentioned yet that this trip was nothing short of magical? From riding across the vast expanse of a frozen lake in a dog sled to creating our own ice sculptures, our time in northern Sweden was full of thrills and chills. The most magical experience of all was the night of our Northern Lights safari on snowmobile—not the snowmobile part, for my apparently fearless driving nearly gave my poor husband a heart attack, but, rather, the moment when the clouds suddenly parted to reveal the heavens. I have never seen so many stars, and the North Star was nearly above our heads. Then Hashem put on a light show for us.
This trip was the perfect opportunity to slow down. Perhaps the best way I can encapsulate the traditional way of life there is through an anecdote. On our second attempt to see the Aurora, which wasn’t a success due to snow and, thus, cloud cover, we had a charming native Sámi guide. I asked her from how much further north she comes, and she replied in number of reindeer herds. In that moment, I thought I could stay there forever.
Our trip to Israel and Sweden juxtaposed old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, but it also allowed us to experience the old and familiar in new and unfamiliar ways. Toward the end of our time in Sweden, I asked my husband if he would get married in the snow if we had it to do over again. He still says he would not, but you can’t blame a girl for asking. If I ever disappear, though, you might try looking for me five reindeer herds further north.
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