By Mordechai Schmutter

  1. To be honest, not many people really have a minhag of what to do during a power failure. Seriously, what did your great-grandfather do when his power went out?
  2. The first thing to do when the power goes out is to determine if it was something you did. Because if the entire state blacked out because of something you did, you’re going to have to barricade yourself into your house, because everyone is going to come after you with torches.
  3. To determine if it’s just you, every article I’ve read recommends that you go down to the basement–which is the darkest room in your house–and check your fuse box, which you have no idea how to use even when it’s light down there, so you can determine if it’s just your house or if it’s the whole neighborhood. I usually just look outside and see if the neighbors have power.
  4. One way to tell if your neighbors don’t have power is if they also come out of their houses. Then you nod at each other like you’re in some secret club and you’re all having some shared trauma that’s bringing you closer together, in that you can’t turn on the lights.
  5. But really, it’s more like the olden days, when everyone knew each other because there was nothing else to do when the sun went down but stand outside and nod at each other.
  6. The truth is that there are several reasons for power outages that aren’t your fault. There could have been bad weather, although chances are you would know about that. It could be that someone at the power station accidentally flipped the switch off before he went home, and didn’t realize it. Or it could be that everyone is using too much power at once. We tend to think of electricity as infinite, mostly because we have no idea how it works. We assume that there are a bunch of hamsters running on wheels or something. But if we’re all using computers and air conditioners and charging our phones at the same time, the hamsters will poop out. And then we’ll have to wait for the electric company to buy enough new hamsters, which sometimes takes several days.
  7. The first thing you should do when the power goes out is grope around in the dark for the flashlight that you used to keep who-knows-where until someone moved it to make shadow puppets.
  8. One idea is to put glow-in-the-dark stickers on your flashlights. That said, put them on your kids too.
  9. If the blackout happens during the day, don’t panic. There’s a pretty good chance you can still see.
  10. One article I read said that once the lights come back on, “Putting a few items in a small shoebox and storing it in an easily accessible location will help you spring into action during a power outage.”
  11. Spring into action? How much action are you expecting during a power outage? Be prepared for a lot of inaction, is what I say. What’s your rush? You’re going to be the only one jumping around, tying your fridge closed and battening down the hatches for when the neighbors come pounding on your door.
  12. If you do have a shoebox, you should probably keep the phone number of the electric company in it, so you can call them and ask them to flip the switch back on or start hamster shopping or whatever. In the alternative, the number is handily printed on their bills that they helpfully send you every month, which are in a filing cabinet in the basement.
  13. An ancient tradition that my wife brought into the marriage (we follow her minhagim on this) is that she doesn’t let me open the fridge or the freezer during a blackout. I can die of thirst, as long as we don’t jeopardize our $10 of leftovers. This blatantly goes against my old minhag, which is that as soon as the power goes out, I try to finish all the ice cream.
  14. But seriously, don’t open the fridge. A well-stocked fridge, if not opened, will keep the food cold for about 4—6 hours, and the freezer for about 2 days. And by “well-stocked,” we mean full of things that should have been thrown out ages ago. Keep them around, in case of a blackout. If your fridge is so full that you can’t close it, that’s perfect. Except for the fact that you can’t close it.
  15. Make sure you have canned foods, in case your wife doesn’t let you open the fridge. Also, a can opener that’s not electric.
  16. If you have to go into the fridge, know what you want before you go in. You know how you decide what to make for supper by standing in front of the open fridge for a few minutes and spacing out in the general direction of whatever’s inside? Yeah, don’t do that.
  17. One great idea, if the blackout is long enough that you have to rescue everything in your fridge, is to make an emergency barbecue. And no, I have no idea how long it takes to grill a brisket.
  18. Don’t shower during a blackout. I know that water is not the thing that’s blacked out, but it’s possible that the power needed to clean the water is. Don’t use it up.
  19. Find something to do, rather than sitting around on the couch and wondering how long it’s going to be until you have to eat the pillows. For example, as we speak, I’m occupying myself by writing this article by candlelight. And my wife is occupying herself by asking me why I’m using a quill. “Just because the power’s out?”
  20. Learning is an option as well. You can pretend you’re learning in the olden days. Get a candle, squint over your Gemara, and slowly realize why, in those days, they found it easier to just memorize things.
  21. Another thing to do is try to get extra sleep. I don’t go to sleep during blackouts, because I know that as soon as I get into bed, everything in the house will suddenly come back on. And I do mean everything. Because one of the first things people do during blackouts is go from room to room turning on switches: “This one doesn’t work. Maybe that one will work. Maybe that one will work.” What, do you think this light switch is on a circuit from a different neighborhood? And then all of a sudden, the power comes on and the entire house roars–air conditioners, computers, fans, alarms, radios–everything comes blaring at once. It’s like the world’s biggest alarm clock, and you’re inside it.
  22. Just so you know, the electric company will not give you a discount on your bill, even if the power was out for several days. If anything, they need more money for those days, because of all the repairs they were doing. In fact, you should probably help them out by donating extra money. Or, if you don’t have extra money because you used it up buying the store’s entire supply of bottled water so your family could bathe for Shabbos, just get a box and mail them a few hamsters. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to



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