Jerusalem Cold and the Dirty Laundry Blues

Though the title of this post might make a good name for a band, it accurately reflects the sentiment of the last week.The Kotel/Al Aqsa in Snow 2008

(Photo credit Ynet, by means of snow in Jerusalem 2008 blog post)

This time last week, everyone was all abuzz because a huge storm was coming, and there were strong rumors that there might be snow in Jerusalem over the weekend. People were hoping for a scene like that above in 2008. In fact, at the grocery store last Friday when we picked up a few last minute things before the Sabbath came in, the shopowner wished us a wonderful snow “sheleg nifla’a”, instead of the typical "Shabbat Shalom." Now, Jerusalem is not really accustomed to snow, so this was as they say here a  “big deal!”   Last time I was in Israel proper in the Winter was in 2006-7. If I recall correctly, it actually did snow, though I was not in Jerusalem at the time, so I missed seeing in with my very own eyes. Needless to say, even though the cold was unpleasant, I was more than half hoping for snow.  Sadly, we were disappointed, as all it did was rain through most of the weekend and the early part of last week. And there are few things more bitter cold than rainy Jerusalem in the 30s.

I don’t want to appear to whine too much, but let me take a few moments to pause and express my gratitude for some things we tend to take for granted in the U.S., for example central heat that you control yourself and the wonder of a  washer and dryer. When we moved to Kentucky and into our home, I was happy that, for the first time in my adult life, I had a washer and dryer in my house and didn’t have to either hang-dry or visit the Laundromat on a regular basis. After many years of living in cold, upstate New York, and sneaking out between snowstorms to do laundry around the corner, it was, a true luxury for which I was very grateful. Over the past week, I was reminded just how grateful I am.

Here in Jerusalem, we are renting an older-style apartment that was probably built more than 40 years ago.  While the kitchen has been renovated, and there are lots of nifty features such as beautiful track lighting, it is, like many apartments in Jerusalem, designed to stay cool in the hot summer days of the desert climate, not to keep heat in during the winter months.  In fact, many buildings are made of concrete, with windows a plenty, and no A/C. This is great in the summer months---with with the windows open and a good cross-breeze, it’s possible to stay very cool despite the climbing mercury outdoors. In the winter, however, this is a freeze-wish. The windows have only pull-down blinds (trisim) to protect you from the blustering winds, and they are indeed quite drafty. 

While the building does have a radiator heat system, it is operated by the Vaad Bayit (literally, the Building/Home Committee), . Unfortunately, the Vaad in our building only operates the heat from 5:00-9:00pm daily, regardless of how cold it may be outside. For the rest of the time, you’re left to fend for yourself, which for most people, means plugging in the space heater, closing the door, and huddling around in blankets and warm clothes, which is of course what we did for a good chunk of the time!

But the cold weather combined with rain presents another key problem, especially for travelers with few clothing options, LAUNDRY. As it is, laundry works differently. First of all the machines are often quite old and very small, see ours below.

Jerusalem Laundry Machine

(Photo credit: Jim Ridolfo)

Most people do small loads frequently, and hang it out to dry. It is not uncommon to get to know your neighbors rather intimately, or at least to see their underwear on a daily basis.  Of course, this works great when it is warm and dry, but when it rains, it spells trouble.  Like many Israeli apartments, the one we’re renting has no dryer, so the cold, rainy days forced us to adopt some rather creative measures. Laundry looked a little bit like this:

Step one, load old, tiny machine, which as Jim noted, bears strong resemblance to a Sputnik Capsule, see photo above.

Step two,  hang laundry indoors on the rack.

Indoor Laundry Rack

(Photo credit: Jim Ridolfo)

Step three, decorate the radiators between the hours of 5-9, to resemble laundry trees to take advantage of the few hours of Vaad-provided heat.

(Photo credit: Jim Ridolfo)

Wash, rinse, repeat.

After many hours of work (but far fewer than washing in the stream!), we finally had some clean laundry.

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