Whether you’re a tourist coming for a week or two, a short term resident, a new immigrant, or have been here for years, summer in Israel can be frightening. From the assault of the hamseen to the searing heat emanating from the sidewalks, the heat in Israel is no laughing matter, though summer is lots of fun. If it’s your first summer or your fiftieth, here is a series of tips to help your summer in Israel be the best! It’s my seventh (or eighth or ninth depending on how you count) summer in Israel and I still haven’t figured it all out, but here’s hoping some of my hard earned experience can help you.
Hamseen vs. Hot Day
A hamseen, related to the word for fifty in Arabic, is called hamseen (alternative spelling: khamsin) because they happen over only 50 days a year. Expect to see hamseens from Pesach to Shavuot, though there are exceptions. A hamseen is a very hot wind that blows dust and sand.
When you’re making decisions in early summer, it’s important to figure out whether it’s a hamseen or just hot. For example, don’t dry your clothes outside during a hamseen. They’ll not only get covered in dust and sand, chances are your drying rack will probably blow over. If you’re deciding on whether to bike or take the bus, a hamseen adds additional dangers to biking, like low visibility and added difficulties breathing. Camping, hiking, and the beach and not good choices for hamseen weather, though they’re just fine for when it’s hot.
I don’t want to be your Taglit leader, tour guide or worried mama, but . . . drinking water is really important in Israel, especially during the summer. If you’re living in Israel or staying for a while and don’t like your tap water, try out Britta filters or invest in a Tami 4 (sounds like Tammy Arba and is used interchangeably to mean any kind of water machine). Yes, the tap water is safe to drink, but if you’re renting a fourth floor walkup with original 1950’s pipes it might just might taste like dirt by the time it makes it up to your flat.
And speaking of the Tami 4, summer is a great time for routine maintenance. If you’ve been running it with hot water ready, save electricity by switching it to the manual heat mode. It’s also a great time to set a different temperature for your water as well as change your filters. Love really cold water? Freeze some water in a bottle and take your icy treat with you all day long.
Want free cold water? Many places have a Tami 4 machine and welcome you to have a free cup of water or fill your bottle. I’ve helped myself in supermarkets like Rami Levi, Nitzat HaDuvdavan as well as smaller stores, health or dental clinics, and some cafes. Really, you’re not putting anyone out by filling your water bottle.
There’s a Dude Warming the Water?
Most apartments and houses in Israel have a solar water heater (pronounced “dude shemesh”, usually written in English as “dud shemesh”). On most days of summer, the sun is enough to heat the water for a family, just time your showers when you know that there will be hot water.
If you’re a resident, the beginning of summer is time to make a few changes on your water heater. First, turn off the electrical heating completely on a 100% sunny day. Check and see if you have very hot water by mid-day/afternoon. If you don’t, then chances are there’s something wrong with your dud shemesh. While even in the hottest days of summer, you might not have hot water for a 7 a.m. shower, you should have hot water by 2 p.m. on most days, sometimes even earlier. If you are a guest in someone’s home, ask them about when you should shower, or you might end up in an icy mess. Save water by shutting off the shower nozzle between showering activities.
A Time to Throw Out
If you’re like my husband, you’ve got troves of sunscreen around and insist on using them year after year. Unfortunately, sunscreen isn’t made to last more than a year. Summer is a great time to see what’s doing with your vintage collection of sunscreen and toss out the old stuff when your husband is out of the house. And if you rely on cosmetics like Ahava, who have sunscreen in them, it’s also a great time to see what doesn’t make the cut. The package will have a little symbol on it with the amount of time it is valid from the time of its opening.
Flying Balls of Dust!
While Pesach is just behind the corner, dusting is an important thing to do before you start your air conditioner and fans. If you’re like me, you’ve neglected to dust the tops of your sky high Israeli closets and ceiling fans during Pesach cleaning. I’ve recently learned that dust built up over the winter will go flying if you don’t do a good dusting at the beginning of summer.
The start of summer is also a great time to change or wash off your air conditioning filter before it makes crackling noises or randomly starts dripping water, which could be signs that the filter needs to be cleaned. And the good news is that most air conditioners are really simple to clean, just open the air conditioner, pop out the filter and wash it outside or in a bathtub.
If you have a car now is the time to make sure that the cooling system works. I tried to save money by refilling my water over and over. Eventually, the car just blew up, shortly after it passed annual inspection. If you own a car or are renting one and notice problems with overheating, it’s best to address them as soon as you can before you and your car are stuck in the middle of that giant hill going into Jerusalem where so many cars go to overheat and die.
Love your bike? Me too, yet my bike has come out of every single Israeli winter in worse and worse condition no matter how hard I try to keep her in shape. You might also want to have your bike checked over in general. Winter rains can cause rusting on brake lines, gears, and you can avoid bigger costs by performing routine maintenance.
And if you’ve been parking your bike around town all winter long, your lock might be just a little bit rusty. So before your key snaps off in the rusty lock with it still attached to your bike and a bike rack, cough up the money and buy yourself a new lock. You’re worth it and your bike is worth it too.
Put It Away Now
Sweaters, puffy blankets, umbrellas, winter jackets – it’s time to put them away for the summer and say hi again in spring. Reserve just a few winter items and store the rest. And I highly recommend adding some kind of moth repellant if you’d like your clothes to emerge from their storage box in the spring in the same condition they are in now. Spring is also when I change my jewelry from silver to gold. After the agony of completely wrecking my favorite hamsa necklace in a sulfured pool and having other silver pieces dulled from chlorine, I park my silver for the summertime. Gold jewelry doesn’t react to chlorine or sulfur. Be aware that some natural springs, pools, and even Dead Sea mud can contain sulfur, which is corrosive to silver, but not gold.
Whether it’s your desk or your kid’s cubby at gan, it’s time to update your stashes of just-in-case items. In winter, an umbrella, an extra pair of pants & socks, and an extra sweater occupied my desk’s bottom drawer. In summer, they all go home on summer vacation. Winter time extras are replaced by a wide-brimmed hat as not to roast during a lunchtime stroll, deodorant for morning, noon & night. Kids’ long sleeved onesies and footie pants should be replaced with short sleeve onesies and shorts. I also keep a liter of just-in-case water in the car because “just-in-case.”
Food Shopping – In THIS heat?
Whether you’re a fan of the air conditioned supermarket or the steamy souk (shuk), if either one of them happens to be more than a meter from your refrigerator you’ll really benefit from a food shopping cooler or insulated bags. While it’s nice that for once Ben & Jerry’s isn’t as hard as a rock when you get home, the heat of Israel can wreak havoc on meat, dairy and frozen goods in a matter of minutes. Shop for perishable goods at the end of your shopping trip, put them away when you get in the door, and then eat the soupy part of the ice cream. And then put the ice cream away.
If you’re a souk shopper and don’t have a rolling bag save yourself a summer of sweat-drenched market days and get yourself a good one. Metal ones tend to be bulkier, but they last much longer and are more durable. They even make rolling insulated bags, though I cannot attest to their quality, my mother is really excited to see them for sale and might buy one. Which reminds me, if you use a backpack at the market, don’t keep your wallet in the outside pocket unless you really want to buy a new wallet and replace its contents.
And while we’re talking about food, you’ll want to dispose of food scraps in your house immediately unless you want a fruit fly or ant farm – and you don’t get to choose which. Watch fruit that’s sitting out for signs of over-ripeness and move it to the refrigerator to help it last longer. And if you see hordes of fruit flies, it’s a sign that something is going on. The last time flies were congregating in a suspicious way I was horrified to discover a recently deceased bird on the roof directly above our balcony.
In Israel a clothes dryer is a rack where you hang the clothes to dry. While winter drying might be great in the sun, summer drying can be done in the shade. The summer sun can bleach your clothing very easily (just have a look at the lines on my sheets). Not only can you fade or ruin colors, you can hang your clothes until they’re dry as a cracker and as soft as one too. Drying inside or in the shade (depending on where you live) is something you should consider doing in the summer months.
Dry inside out for less of a chance of fading and hang clothes by the bottom upside down with clothes pins instead of folding them in half over the rack for better results.
Get ready for fall?
If you’re a new parent like I am, you might be surprised to hear that nursery schools and daycares are already filling up for the fall. As early as March through May you’ll want to make tours, speak with teachers, and plan for the next year. Some private daycares are already filled, so don’t dawdle on this decision.
Some Final Words
Summer is a special time in Israel, unlike summer anywhere else in the world. You can get through it! Don’t panic when the air conditioning crackles, just clean the filter. Don’t let rock-hard clothes discourage you from drying outside, give it another try with some more softener and less time directly in the sun. Car overheating? Just pull over, but on your sexy yellow vest, grab your just-in-case liter of water and find some shade while you wait for a tow.
Warm wishes from sunny Israel!