Israelis in the Polar Vortex

Israelis in the Polar Vortex

Winter 2019 has been a true Wisconsin winter. Not only did we have multiple snow days, but the whole city shut down when the Polar Vortex swept through. For those of us accustomed to Midwest weather, this has just been “one of those” winters. But for the Israeli emissaries who are living in and serving our community, they were quite an eye opener.

We asked Keren Weisshaus, Community Shlichah with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, and May Ben-Shabat & Yogev Toby, this year’s “Shin Shinim” (Sh’nat Sherut – a year of volunteer service before joining the Israeli army) to reflect on how Winter 2019 looked through Israeli eyes.


Before our first winter in Wisconsin I was really worried how warm-blooded Israelis like us can survive these icy conditions. Every story I heard was scarier than the next and it seemed people really enjoyed sharing them with us. So, after we survived last year’s winter I felt we’ve got this, and winter can actually be fun and exciting (as long as you know how to layer properly). We tried many winter sports and activities for the first time in our lives (Snow tubing definitely my favorite) and when winter was approaching again I was actually looking forward to having some fun snowy days.
Well you don’t need me to tell you this winter was a whole different story. Even my very active Israeli kids refused to go play in the snow after a while and we are all really ready for spring to come. I have to remind myself that spring here doesn’t necessarily comes with Pesach and it might take some time until we defrost, but I know that summer in Milwaukee is totally worth the wait. I’m sure that next year we will miss the beautiful soft snow, and my kids will definitely miss having snow days out of school.


I have lived in a place where winter has some rain and the degrees are above 60. When we first arrived in Milwaukee everyone asked us if we are ready for winter and honestly, we thought, “how bad can it be?”
Well, let me tell you…. Pretty bad!
It’s really cold and not something I’m used to from home. I never had an actual coat until I came here. I could have walked out of the house with a t-shirt and a jacket and be perfectly fine.
My first snow here was amazing. I remember it was less than an inch of snow, but I got so excited! Everything looked different… pure. And then it’s been 2 days, and it looked like mud.
Yes, the winter is hard to get used to, but I love it for some reason.


“Are you ready for winter yet??” is what I was asked many times before arriving in Milwaukee, I really didn’t think much of it. Heard about the snow and the negative degrees but until you really find yourself in it, there is no way to imagine it.
In Israel, winter and fall are a blast! Everything is green, the rivers are flowing and it all looks really alive, but I knew that I am going to experience something else this year in Milwaukee.
We started our year right as fall came and it was nice and chilly, a bit like I remembered it from Israel, and then the weeks passed, and we got our first snow! By that time, I had my jacket, but I completely forgot the cold, all I thought about was how incredible the snow is right as it falls and piles up.
I saw the degrees go down more and more and it did feel cold. At some point, I just asked myself what is the difference between -5 or -10, it all felt cold in the same way.
And then the polar vortex came, schools were closed, roads were blocked, and it felt like something serious hit our area. Like I mentioned before – it was all cold, but throughout the vortex, if I forgot my gloves outside I would instantly regret it, especially thanks to the freezing wind chill.
But overall, we made it out of the cold safe and healthy. All you need is a good jacket, some heat in your house, and the Wisconsinites to tell you that -20 degrees is “nothing”.