The winter weather kind of snuck up on us here in Israel. Just last week, as the kids and I were taking our daily walk (within our permissible one kilometer), my son marveled that even though it was the beginning of January, he was still wearing short sleeves!
But when I woke up early with my daughter one morning this week (two-year-old sleep regression – please help!), it was clear that change was in the air. Suddenly our apartment was really, really cold!
Israeli apartments are built to keep their occupants cool and comfortable for most of the year – during which the weather is warm. They are not well equipped to keep them warm for the cold spells that come in the short winter months.
Those large panoramic windows that facilitate cool cross breezes on hot summer nights? Now they facilitate a less pleasant winter wind – even with the shutters tightly closed. Those cool slick tile floors that are so refreshing in the summer? Now they provide a shockingly frigid wake-up shock as you step out of your warm bed in the morning.
And forget about jumping into a hot shower to warm up. The dud shemesh (sun-powered water heater) is a dud on a cloudy winter day. No sunny rays means, quite simply, no readily available hot water. Instead, you have to turn on the electric dud – and it takes at least an hour before a sufficient amount of hot water is ready. Believe me, if you don’t wait long enough, you’ll be sorry.
To be fair, most apartments do have some form of central heating system. The mazgan (air conditioner) that cools the apartment in the summer can also be programmed to blow hot air in the winter. But the mazgan is costly to operate and doesn’t really efficiently spread heat to all the rooms in the apartment, so you constantly find yourself adding or shedding layers as you walk from room to room.
So what’s the trick to staying consistently warm?
Just like Israelis have their go-to sandals for the hot summer days, they also have their go-to winter shoes. For indoor use, Israelis rely on na’alay bayit (house shoes), which are essentially ankle-high snuggly slippers that fasten closed with either velcro or a zipper.
These shoes are affectionately nicknamed “kippis” after the character Kippi Ben Kipod from “Rechov Sum Sum” (the Israeli version of “Sesame Street”), who always wears these slippers in the show. My daughter loves these shoes so much, she won’t even take them off when she heads to the crib at night!
For outdoor use, Israelis forgo the fancy Uggs and furry boots that are so common in the States as they don’t offer much protection from the sudden rainstorms that hit the country. Instead, Israelis favor waterproof shoes, such as Birkenstocks, or even old-fashioned rubber rain boots. To keep warm, they complete the look with warm and fuzzy knee socks. Yes, even adults wear them!
While we spent much of the summer months drinking cold water to stay hydrated, we now indulge in hot drinks for a quick way to warm up at breakfast and before climbing into bed. Another useful tip we received is to place hot water bottles under bed covers to warm up the beds before we go to sleep.
These hot water bottles are easily available at toy stores and even come in all kinds of kid-friendly designs. (Just make sure, however, to remove the bottles when getting into bed to avoid the danger of burns.)
Finally, on bitterly cold nights, a strategically set up space heater (we use a fan heater) can effectively warm the part of the room you are using while not burning through your bank account.
The funny thing is that even as we shiver at home in our na’alay bayit, by New York standards it isn’t actually that cold outside. In fact, as we prepare for our walks, my son stubbornly insists that neither a sweatshirt nor socks are necessary as it’s “really not cold outside!”
My grandfather used to joke that you can never make a person happy. In the summer, he complains about the heat and humidity, and in the winter, he complains about the cold and snow. All in all, though, Israeli winters don’t seem so bad. With fuzzy slippers, warm blankets, and chocolatey drinks – really, is there anything to complain about?