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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Baby, it’s cold outside: packing for winter in Israel.

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If you’re making aliyah over the summer, you’re probably wondering how much winter stuff you should pack.  Israel is hot, right?  And dry?

Sure it is, but it definitely does get cold here in the wintertime.  And I’m Canadian; when I say cold, I mean COLD.   

The tricky part is that it gets cold… but only for a few weeks.  Just because it's shorter, though, doesn't make it any less cold.  Dumb and obvious but true.

(Okay, Canadian friends and relatives, feel free to mock me now at the thought that anything above freezing can be considered truly cold.)

How can I, a proud Canadian, whine about temperatures in Israel?

The cold here seems way colder than it did in Canada.  That’s because coming inside doesn't help: there's no central heating.  So warm jammies or nighties is a smart choice to pack, as much as you’ll curse the space they take up for such a short period of use over the course of a year.

It also means that kids in schools can get COLD.  Schools are not adequately heated and air conditioners (yes, they also have a “heat” setting) are often old and bad.

As tough as people outside of Israel think Israelis are, my kids' school was cancelled once this year due to rain (field trips are cancelled if there's any CHANCE of rain!), and more than once they brought the kids hot tea and soup to warm them up (on days I didn't consider particularly cold, but whatever).

So should you pack parkas, hats, and fluffy winter boots?

First, you should know that in most parts of the country, winter is more about wind and rain – serious quantities of both – than it is about snow, sleet, or anything else I experienced in Canada.

Before we came, a friend told me to bring good-quality waterproof raincoats, and I still think that's the best way to go.  With a good raincoat, you can layer underneath it and stay warm, and it's good for a longer period of the year.

Rainboots too (preferably ones that don't leak, like I brought).  With fluffy warm socks, they can do the same job as serious winter boots, but with thin socks, they’re good for the first or last warm rains as well.

Israelis, on the other hand, tend to wear parkas and warm winter boots.  They do this no matter what the weather, between October and February.  My theory is that they like to pretend it's really winter.  Everyone bundles up, and then they look at me funny in my windbreaker (with a sweatshirt underneath!).

You will still need mittens and hats, but again, not for very long.  Annoying, but true.  Basic stretch mitts are fine; you don’t really need waterproof ski gloves unless, of course, you’re up on the Hermon skiing.

However.

However…

If you’re moving to a place like Yerushalayim or Tzfat that gets REAL weather (unlike here on the coast), I'd still suggest real winter coats.  I was in Yerushalayim the day after Pesach and FROZE.  It was seriously miserable, and it was not the first time I’ve sat shivering on a freezing concrete or metal bench there.  Jerusalemites, bundle up.

Temperature in Israel is more a function of altitude than how far north or south you are.  Yerushalayim is farther south than we are, but also higher up.  The air is cooler and beautifully mountainy.  Or bitingly cold if you’re tired and it’s dark and raining.

Yerushalayim in the rain

[Jerusalem in the rain photo credit: Navot Miller via Wikimedia]

But I'd still recommend rubber boots over winter ones.  Believe it or not, it gets very wet underfoot in most parts of the country.  Good treads, too; lots of places have stone paths and steps that get slippery.

We actually had a longer than usual winter this year.  It rained after Pesach, which is almost unheard-of (B"H!).  And I wore my heavy flannel nightie for months.  We only needed to use the heaters for about 2 weeks, but those 2 weeks, we were super-grateful to have them.

(Most air conditioners also have heating, but again, we didn't use that much either this year.)

Israelis seem to love umbrellas for winter, by the way.  But the wind here is notoriously hard on umbrellas, and after every rainy day, you can find piles of dead umbrellas lying by the side of the road.  So again, I don't recommend them.  But that's partly me - I like having my hands free.

They sell two kinds of duvets or comforters in Israel:  winter weight and summer weight.  The summer ones are very thin, but still too heavy for most nights with no air conditioning.  I sleep with just a flat sheet for most of the year.  

You probably don’t want to bring a whole lot of blankets and warm bedding.  They can end up costing a lot, since lifts are generally priced by volume, not weight.  I’d suggest one heavy and one light duvet or comforter per person.  For maximum efficiency, pack them inside furniture you’re bringing already.  Fill up those dresser drawers with blankets or towels and then you won’t pay a penny extra.

So… what should you pack?

The short answer:  for most of Israel, you can probably leave the parkas and ski pants at home, if you have enough warm layers for underneath.  Israelis will think you’re nuts, but you will stay warm and dry (probably warmer and drier than they do) as long as the top layer is thick and waterproof.

Jerusalem, of course, being the Eternal City, is an exception to this rule.  And there are quite a few others.  Don’t be afraid to ask the locals or on an NbN group or message board; everybody will be happy to help!

You might be wondering why I’m writing about freezing winter weather on a muggy hot late-June day.  Dealing with heat is a far bigger problem for olim than dealing with cold; it’s probably the problem that most of us expect, given that it’s a hot country.  Which is why so many olim come unprepared for Israeli winters.

But we all deal with weather in different ways… and I guess mine is by thinking of those miserable chilly days just a few short weeks ago, and closing my eyes, and hoping that October gets here just as fast as it can.

Did you pack too much winter stuff, or not enough?  Did your first winter in Israel take you by surprise?  Share your own experience and wisdom in the Comments section.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


7 comments:

  1. Confirmation. As a young man in the 80s, we sat in the beit midrash (Israeli, not 'American' institution with better accommodations) with parkas on. At night, I was the only one toasty warm in bed, because I had my down sleeping bag that I'd brought with me. Many of the buildings were, still are, uninsulated or inadequately so. Long underwear was the rule of the day in our apartment in winter, even with the kerosene heaters going. Babies need to be kept warmer! And the cold is 'wet' cold that really penetrates; unlike the 'drier' winter cold of much of snowy North America. As we get ready to return to Israel, I've been debating what winter gear to bring with us. Very appropriate and useful post.

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    1. Thanks! It's a shame to have to bring it all, because that puffy stuff takes up so much space, but you'll thank yourself midway through your first (short) winter. Hatzlacha on your return home!

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  2. Building in Israel is for summer heat, not winter cold. Also, the longer you're here the less your body will tolerate the cold. There can be 10 degrees centigrade difference between day and night temperature, so always be prepared.

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    1. That is definitely true. I was told it takes 2 years to start getting used to the heat here, so maybe we'll start feeling more comfortable with the heat (and less with the cold). We'll see! :-)

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  3. I find it to be opposite: my body tolerates cold much better than heat! When I've been back visiting NY during the winter, I've found the houses to be very overheated and uncomfortable.

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    1. I totally agree. Stuffy, too! I almost always had windows open, even in chilly Toronto weather, except in the most bitter months. Come spring, regardless of the thermometer, I had the door open to "air" the house. :-)

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  4. I have never been in Israel, but I am planing to visit it next months. I really have no idea what clothes to pack. It's great that you shared those recommendations. Greetings

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I'd love to hear what you have to say.

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