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What’s it like to live in one of the hottest places on the planet?

Kibbutz Tirat Zvi is one of the world’s top 10 hottest places to live. ISRAEL21c talked to residents to find out how they handle the heat.
It’s hot on Kibbutz Tirat Zvi. Blazingly, unbearably hot. On June 21, 1942, the thermometer hit 53.9 degrees Celsius (129 Fahrenheit), the highest-ever recorded temperature in Asia.

Even if Tirat Zvi has never surpassed or equaled that world record since then, during a typical summer the daytime thermometer hovers around a sizzling 40C (104F), “cooling off” to about 38 in the evening.

“I’m plotzing here. The air conditioner is already on at nine in the morning,” says Shelly Ganiel, who moved to Tirat Zvi in 1970 from New York as the bride of a kibbutz native. When she volunteered there several years earlier, guest quarters were so sweltering that they threw water on the wooden floors to cool the rooms down.

Tirat Zvi was founded in July 1937 by religious German and Polish immigrants who had no idea that the Beit She’an Valley, in which Tirat Zvi and several other kibbutzim are located, lies 220 meters (722 feet) below sea level, making it not just one of the hottest places in Israel, but also one of the hottest places on Earth. And that July, says Ganiel, was among the hottest on record.

When she asked her father-in-law why they settled in such an extreme location, he replied, “We were young and stupid; we didn’t know where the Beit She’an Valley was, and we were very idealistic.”

The early kibbutzniks began farming the fields and orchards well before dawn every day but Saturday, broke for showers and naps midday and then returned to work in the late afternoon. They cooled themselves in pools of water gathered from underground natural springs – the official name of the Beit She’an Valley is Emek Hama’ayanot (Valley of the Springs) — and on the worst nights they slept outside, covered with mosquito netting.

In the 1950s, each tiny kibbutz house got a fan to help cool the main room by day and the bedroom by night. Withstanding the heat became a sort of badge of honor.

When air conditioners slowly started to be installed in 1968, “There were people who said air-conditioning was too bourgeois and the kibbutz would fall apart,” Ganiel tells ISRAEL21c wryly.


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