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Winter Descends

WHAT do you recall most vividly about "making aliyah"? Chances are, your memories are a virtual collage of meeting fascinating new people, reveling in the spectacular Land-of-the- Bible scenery, tasting the exotic Middle Eastern cuisine, learning a new language, adapting to new customs and adopting a whole new lifestyle.

Certainly, these delights to the mind and senses form just a small part of the dizzying welter of experience for new arrivals to Eretz Israel. Like one of James Bond's famous vodka martinis, new immigrants to Israel can expect to be both stirred and shaken in a cocktail of exhilarating sights, sounds and sensations during their first year of residence and absorption.

But this cocktail, they soon discover, is almost invariably served "on the rocks". First and foremost among the new sensations experienced by new immigrants is how cold - how unexpectedly, unbelievably cold - their new apartment is for six months.

That's right, I said cold! The time has come for all of us to speak of the Israeli malady that dare not say its name: Cold. cold, cold, COLD! Not to mention damp, damp, DAMP and raw, raw, RAW! (That's raw, raw, RAW, not rah, rah, RAH.)

New immigrants from the United States - as well as from Canada, our ridiculously cold neighbor to the north - are struck particularly by the glaring lack of either central heating in Israeli dwelling places or any sort of building insulation worthy of the name (shocking deficiencies that go largely unnoticed by immigrants from the British Isles). Moreover, the occasional immigrant from some idyllic tropical island, like Manhattan, is driven almost to distraction by the damp, raw cold that sets in here from exactly 12 midnight on November 1 till 12 midnight on May 1. And while either huddling around the orange glow of a portable electric heater, or recoiling in fear from the low hiss of a gas radiator, the new arrival usually finds that the warmth provided by these dubious devices is more psychological than real.

The question that immediately arises is why so little attention is paid to such amenities as central heating - or for that matter, to any attempt to preserve personal body heat - in the construction of Israeli apartment buildings. The answer must be sought in the pages of our history. The pioneering fathers and mothers of the modern State of Israel, arriving here from the frigid plains of Poland and the windswept wastes of Russia and Ukraine, were simply not impressed by what passes for "winter" here in the Middle East. Happily dancing the hora at the end of a hard winter's day spent draining swamps, clearing rocks and planting orange groves, the early kibbutzniks - clad in their light cotton work shirts and comfortable shortshorts - would play their accordions and sing, "Cold, shmold...You call this cold?!"

Instead, their attention was drawn to the potent Middle Eastern summer and its withering heat. For these early Eastern European immigrants, their bodies genetically acclimatized to centuries of blizzards in Bialystock, the winter winds of Warsaw, or the snow and sleet of Slutzk, the heat of a Levantine summer must have been mind numbing.

Sluggishly dancing the hora at the end of a hard summer's day spent draining swamps, clearing rocks and planting orange groves, the early kibbutzniks - clad in their sweat-sodden work shirts and damp, sticky shortshorts - would play their accordions and sing, "Hot, hot...Oy vey is mir, this is hot...Who would believe this heat? Feh!"

Accordingly, they built their houses to be open and airy, to dispel the enervating heat of day, and to make the most of whatever faint breeze might be kind enough to blow by. Their children built their houses the same way. Their grandchildren built apartment buildings the same way. To make a long story short, this approach to building construction - open, airy, freezing! - has become an unbreakable habit.

Okay Israel, listen up: Perhaps it is time to seriously rethink our way of constructing houses and apartment buildings. Perhaps the time has come for us all to move forward, to leave the past behind, and to look ahead toward a warmer, more comfortable tomorrow. Perhaps it is time to begin building homes - on a massive scale - with better insulation and, yes, central heat!

Or more likely, perhaps it is time for me to stop whining about how cold I am and buy a few more woolen blankets. 



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Tuesday, 18 June 2024

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