I want to take a moment to address a misconception I believe a lot of people have about the Israeli climate.
Israel has winter.
Yes, Israel is a desert and yes, summers are undeniably hot and dry- but Israel’s winters are cold. Israel is not a tropical location where once in a while you need to dig to the back of your closet to pull out a light sweater. Heavy winter coats, gloves, scarves and boots are a staple of every wardrobe from November to March. Winter is cold and wet and definitely present in Israel’s yearly weather patterns.
In my first Israel winter I found myself incredibly unprepared. I had left my winter coat in the US thinking to myself, “Well, I am from New York. If six-foot snow storms couldn’t take me down, a little rain certainly won’t do any damage.” Two weeks into my first winter I was begging for someone to bring me my down winter jacket and some fluffy socks to protect my poor toes from the cold stone floor.
Winter in Israel brings with it the usual crop of sniffles, the flu and the standard homegrown cold. In addition to all the standard ailments, a lot of olim are surprised to find themselves feeling ill for longer periods than they are used to or getting sick more often than they did back in their native countries.
“Olim Cholim” (sick immigrants) or “Cholim Chadashim” (new sick people) is a little-known concept but a wide spread phenomenon within the Oleh community. Many Olim find themselves picking up every little bug, sniffle and virus that goes around during their first year in Israel as they adjust to a new set of germs and bacteria they are not yet immune to. The general stress that comes with moving to a new country along with the new environment can bring on all sorts of ailments that otherwise you may not contract. While winter leaves people more susceptible to illness, many people experience this phenomenon in summer as well.
While many Olim find themselves in the “Olim Cholim” category, it is not true for everyone. Many of my friends have found themselves in the opposite position. Many have found that allergies they had back in their home countries were far less severe once they made the move to Israel. My roommate who has severe seasonal allergies in the US found that she could make it through the spring without a single allergy pill. Another friend who had severe asthma in America has not had a significant episode in the years since her Aliyah.
The best way to prepare for your first encounter with illness in Israel is to research and understand your healthcare options ahead of making Aliyah. Knowing which Kupah (healthcare provider) in your area has the doctors that meet your needs and the needs of your family can go a long way if you find yourself sick in your first few months in Israel. Find out which doctors speak English in your area. Ask around the neighborhood or online in your local forums and find out which doctors have a good bedside manner and once you arrive, be sure to meet them and discuss your medical needs before you find yourself sick! If you have any special medical needs, be sure to find out which medical services and specific medications are available to you in Israel.
When preparing for Aliyah it is important to ask for a full record of your medical history from your family doctor. Be sure to present the medical history to your new doctor so they can know how to best help you in the future.
Take the time to learn about the additional services your health insurance provides. Many people elect to get the flu shot in the winter months as many insurance plans offer it for free. There are also many holistic medicine options available through your insurance provider that you can take advantage of.
Learn some of the basic medical terms in Hebrew. Words like Shapa’at (flu) or Tipul (treatment) can come in handy when you try to describe any symptoms you may be having.
While it may sound silly, winter in Israel brings with it the season of soups. Chicken soup, orange soup, pea soup, lentil soup- the variety is incredible and there has not yet been a strong enough scientific argument that has changed my mind about the restorative powers of a good, hearty bowl of soup.
In my non-medical opinion, the most important thing you can do for yourself if you are feeling sick is to take a day or two and rest. Sometimes getting over a virus can be as simple as getting a little extra restorative sleep. This will also help avoid spreading the germs to your friends and co-workers (for which they will be grateful!). If your job requires it, your doctor can provide you with something called an Ishur Machala, an official doctor’s note stating that you are sick and need time off from work to recover.
The great news is winters in Israel last only a few months. They are gone as quickly as they come. They begin around December and are gone by the beginning of March. The sniffles dry up, the weather gets warm and next thing you know we are back to summer, spending time fighting the heat at the beach and enjoying a healthy, desert summer glow while dreaming of those cooler winter days.