Benji Lovitt
Because the Middle East is Funny
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Baby, it’s cold inside

Winter in Tel Aviv means... bringing a sweater when you go to the beach
The beach in Tel Aviv on a stormy winter day in Tel Aviv, January 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)
The beach in Tel Aviv on a stormy winter day in Tel Aviv, January 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful…”
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…”

OK, let’s stop there. If these classic lyrics conjure up images of a winter wonderland, you are probably not Israeli. Though Jerusalem does get the occasional snowstorm, the most frightful Tel Aviv sight since winter arrived was a tourist wearing an ugly Chanukah sweater with the wrong shoes.

Putting aside that we also have no fireplaces or chimneys (and, therefore, no delightful fires), the Tel Aviv winter was one of the smallest adjustments I had to make upon making aliyah.

We really only have two seasons here: Summer, and those three other days. Fine, let’s call it a few months, when the unbearable humidity subsides and something resembling autumn makes its presence felt. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date on the calendar, but its arrival is accompanied by two things: temperatures falling below 75 degrees and, three minutes later, women breaking out their fashionable winter boots. (Hey, when you spend good money on shopping abroad, you have to take advantage.) Boots, scarves, unnecessarily heavy coats…you can find them all, and on the same block as other people wearing t-shirts and flip-flops.

Though not always, these brave skin-barers are more likely to be immigrants, tourists, or just people who have experienced actual winter before. Though I spent almost 25 years in Texas, my three years in New York make it impossible for me to empathize with those who find Tel Aviv cold. Whenever native Israelis complain about the winter temperatures, I tell them “you have GOT to go to Boston or Chicago,” at which point, they reply, “I want to — you can arrange for me a visa?”

But you can’t argue with perception. If someone thinks that 65 degrees F represents a modern-day Ice Age, nothing I can say will convince them otherwise. This is remarkably similar to my perception that running up a single flight of stairs is a tremendous workout when the reality is that I’m actually an out-of-shape potato.

There is one place however, where it’s too cold for my comfort, and that place is inside. Because the buildings are made from concrete with little to zero insulation, the winter months can make you more uncomfortable in your own home than in the elements. This makes getting out of bed (or the shower) quite challenging. One expects the cold outside; nobody wants it following you back home. If that’s not clear, imagine visiting your in-laws for the weekend. Now imagine them returning home with you and sticking around for the next three months.

Not that I have room for in-laws or any visitors in my cozy Tel Aviv apartment anyway (“cozy” is a cute way to say “much too small”). Because the Middle East is located approximately 10 minutes from the sun, hanging wet laundry dries my clothes in less time than the walk from Rabin Square to the beach. During the winter, however, the drying racks occupy a permanent place in the middle of my home as I spend day after day playing everybody’s favorite game:

“Jeans: Are They Wet or Are They Just Cold?”

Those who use a traditional clothesline can celebrate an unexpected rainstorm by playing “It’s Raining at My Office, But Is It Raining at Home Two Blocks Away?” (There are never any winners in these games.)

Hot or cold….ice cream or hot chocolate….no matter which part of the thermometer you prefer, most agree that a bit of change is usually a good thing. And without a bit of cooler weather, we might not appreciate the warmer days come spring. Or whatever we call that season.

Besides….climate change means that we can go to the beach in February. Surf’s up! (Bring a sweater.)

Originally published in Dallas Jewish Monthly

About the Author
Since making aliyah in 2006, Benji Lovitt has performed stand-up comedy and educational programs for groups including Jewish Federations, Chabads, synagogues, Masa Israel Journey, and Birthright Israel. His perspectives on aliyah and Israeli society have been featured on Israeli TV and radio and in publications such as USA Today, Time Magazine, the BBC, and more. Benji has worked as a cross-cultural trainer with groups including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Masa Israel and is a popular presenter on the Limmud International circuit. During 2014's Operation Protective Edge, his humorous observations on the war led to his being called in Israel "the only reason to go on Facebook.”
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