We were unable to attend this month’s Fulbright program, so in its place I thought I would take some time telling you about the weather here in Israel. I know that it sounds like a boring topic, but read the entire post, and then see what you think.
One of the big adjustments I had to make when we first arrived here in Israel was the weather. We left the States at the end of September, just as the New England Fall was getting to its peak. The leaves were just starting to turn color, the air had that crisp feeling to it, and it was just about time to switch to long-sleeve shirts and sweaters. Fall is my favorite time of year. The colors of the trees are so majestic. The cool air provides relief from the heat and humidity of the summer. The rainy days provide a great excuse to curl up in a blanket with a good book and some hot chocolate. Ski season is just around the corner. It really is a great time of year.
When we got off the plane in Israel, it was sunny with blue skies, and the temperature was in the 80s and 90s. We went back to summer literally overnight. It was fun at first, but every day following was sunny with blue skies. Our apartment stayed pretty cool but whenever we were outside we were in summer clothes. I felt a bit guilty complaining about the perfect weather here (especially when Hurricane Sandy was smashing into New England) but I missed the fall weather. I complained many times how I wish it would just rain so I could have one of those cozy days that I would be having at home. Be careful what you wish for…
Israel is located between 29 and 33 degrees latitude. Areas at this latitude both in the northern and southern hemispheres tend to have desert climate. Yet, because of the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains, the climate varies throughout the country. The southern part of the country is the typical desert climate, but the North and the coastal regions have a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. Jerusalem being in the mountains tends to be a bit colder as is Mount Hermon which is in the northernmost part of the country. In January, it snows in the Hermon. It can snow in Jerusalem, but it is much less predictable.
Based on its location and topography, Jerusalem pretty much has two seasons; summer and winter. Winter is from about November until March and is characterized by cold and rain. The worst of it is really in the month of January and possibly a bit of February. Because it is a desert, the nights get particularly cold. Never is it as cold as it is in Connecticut; the lowest temperatures so far have been in the 40°s or 50°s. Not a big deal right? You would think so, but there is one small problem. Since it is only cold for a few months and it is hot for the rest of the year, the buildings are designed for the heat. That means all the floors are tile, there is no insulation in the walls, and in most buildings (like the one we live in) there is no central heat. It is really easy to be cozy when it is cold and raining in Connecticut when the house is at a constant 68°F. When it is just as cold inside as it is outside, it isn’t quite as cozy. Since we have no central heat, we rely on small electric space heaters, which work well but which cost lots of electricity to run. We try to use them as little as possible; instead we layer our clothes and use blankets. We also feel like flowers. Whenever the sun is out, we move to the part of the room where we can be in its light. It is so nice and warm there. On rainy days, the apartment gets very cold because there is no sunlight to provide heat.
The first rainy day was a bit of a shocker. I tried very hard not to complain. After all, this was what I wanted. Also, it is always hard to complain about the rain in Israel. Every drop is important for the well-being of the country since there is a severe water shortage here. The more rain we get the better. It brings new meaning to the prayer for rain that we add to the Amidah at this time of year. Yet, it is hard not to wish for sunlight when you sit shivering in your own house. We did pretty well keeping warm with minimal effort for the month of November and most of December. About two weeks ago, it became colder and we had to make a few adjustments. Slippers became a very important part of our daily ensemble since the tile floors get ridiculously cold. We started using the heaters more often because our well-being is worth the money it will cost to pay the electricity bill. We originally were just using the heater in the bedroom for about half an hour before bed to banish the chill from the air. Now we also use it in the morning to motivate ourselves to get out of bed, and it makes getting dressed less painful. We use one of the heaters in the living room sporadically throughout the morning and night. We try not to run it continuously; a half an hour to an hour at a time to banish the chill. Sometimes we run it longer depending on how cold it feels. Again we are finding a good balance.
One difficulty with the heaters has been Shabbat. We can’t turn the heaters on and off ourselves so we have been trying to put them on timers. The first time we tried it was a failure because the power rating on the heater that we had was too big for the timer. We assume so at least; the power rating on the heater isn’t listed but since the timer doesn’t work anymore it seems like a logical conclusion. The next time, when we had friends over for a meal, we used a different heater and a different timer. This time we knew the power rating was fine, but for some reason it wasn’t working right. We think we confused the new timer with the old one that broke, so once again the heat didn’t run as we wanted it to. Our friends were real troopers and our discussion about the cold motivated us to start looking for ways to insulate our rooms so that when the heat works, it gets trapped in the house. This past week, we got the timers to work. It turns out that one of our outlets doesn’t like the whole timer-heater combo (electric circuitry in Israel is a little weird), but it works in different outlets.
In terms of keeping things warm, we have been doing a few things that have definitely helped. First, we have closed all the doors to rooms that are not being used so that the heat stays in the room where we are (mostly the living room). The other thing involves windows. One of the reasons we love this apartment is all the windows which let all that beautiful sunlight in. The bad thing is that all the of windows are letting all the heat out. We tried to do things the way we used to at home; close the shades at night, but the blinds here weren’t really doing much. We remembered that Adam’s dad used to put this plastic stuff over the windows (it is made by 3M), and it would keep things warmer. I tried to see if they sold the stuff here (I only tried one store) and then decided to buy plastic wrap and masking tape. We taped the plastic wrap over the windows and then used a hair dryer to seal the plastic and tighten it.
We have a few more windows to do this week, but we did finish the big floor to ceiling windows in our living room and it has already made a big difference. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days when it gets pretty cold in here, but with the heaters, comfy clothes, blankets, and the plastic, even those days can become comfortable. It just takes a bit more effort than at home. Sometimes I want to take a nice hot shower to get the chill out of my bones, but that is also a bit complicated here. Israel has been smart in the use of solar energy since it is in a desert. All buildings have what is called a Dud Shemesh, which is a solar water heater. The sun is used to create hot water, which is stored in a tank. It is a cheap and environmentally-friendly way to make hot water in a country that is sunny most of the year.
The only problem is that there isn’t always enough sunlight in the winter to make enough hot water. There is always plenty of hot water for dishes, but showering takes a lot. To make sure that there is hot water in the winter for a shower, we have an electric heater for the water tank. Before you take a shower, you have to turn on the heater and give it time to heat the water up. The first time I used it, I didn’t wait long enough, and the hot water turned to barely warm in about 2 minutes. Then I had to get out of the shower into the cold room. It was miserable! Since then (except for this past Friday) I have waited long enough and have had a wonderfully hot shower. However, since water is a concern here, keeping showers short is always the best way to go both economically and environmentally. Therefore, showers aren’t always the best way to keep the cold away.
Another interesting part of the winter here is the humidity. In Connecticut, we are used to dry winters and humid summers. Here it is the opposite. In the summers it is dry, and the winters have much higher humidity. Higher of course is a relative term. If someone says that it is really humid here, we deny the fact since it is nothing compared to at home. We can’t feel the humidity the way we do in Connecticut, so for the most part it doesn’t affect our comfort. It is annoying when it comes to drying things, however. Because we are air drying our clothes and dishes, the additional humidity makes it take a lot longer. This includes hand towels and dish towels. It is uncomfortable to go dry your hands on a towel only to find that it is damp. It is annoying but we are learning to deal with it.
The moral of the story is that the weather is different in Israel, and it is a part of our experience here. We now understand why Israelis have a love-hate relationship with the winter, and it has really made us appreciate what we have at home. We better understand that rain is crucial for the survival of the country but with it comes the cold. Soon it will be over, and then we will get a chance to really experience the Israeli summer. Part of me can’t wait since it won’t be quite as cold, but last time I wanted a weather change and got it, I wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be. I think I’m going to let nature decide when things should tip back the other way, and I will just hope that we can figure out how to make it comfortable. We don’t have air conditioning after all!
Until next time…