The one thing I most wanted to do when I moved to Israel was to live alone. I had gone from my father’s home to my husband’s home and the sound of nothing at all called to me. In those days, flats were scarce and even harder to find. Unlike in my home cities, there were no TO LET (Canada) or FOR RENT (USA) signs in the windows of empty flats—indeed, there were virtually no empty flats in Jerusalem. There were, however, several ways of finding whatever there was. The Jerusalem POST advertised a few; there were lively rumours floating around and there was an agency downtown called SHE’AL, which means ‘ask’. And ask I did, arriving there at sunrise to look at the listings—or more often over the shoulders of younger and better Hebrew speakers at the brief and discouraging register. Didn’t work.
My daughter kindly took me in until further notice, as it was she who initiated my move to the Holy Land, and no good deed goes unpunished. I searched and hunted and six weeks later found a furnished flat—2 bedrooms, dining, living rooms and a kitchen just big enough. Didn’t know what to do with the second bedroom because the ‘furnished’ part ended with the first. Jerusalem does not build for singles.
There was no telephone and no hope of one for three months. I thought that was terrific—reading without interruption, no jumping out of the tub to answer wrong numbers, although when I did get a phone it had the former number of an electrical industry and I leapt out of beds, tubs and hallways until I realized that I didn’t know enough people to justify that behaviour. I washed my laundry by hand and hung it out the window. If I missed the line, it was a walk of three flights of stairs down to rescue my dripping wet and then filthy articles. I cleaned the floors with a sink sponge because I didn’t know the Hebrew for ‘mop’. No TV, just my radio/tape player, a stack of favourite performers and lots of books. It was heaven.
Miriam, my gentle, elderly next-door neighbour, spoke Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew; I made do with English and French. She assured my daughter that she’d look after me—I couldn’t imagine how the needs of a North American psychiatric researcher could be met by an Orthodox woman 20 years older and cultures apart, but she was dedicated and I was grateful.
Coming home on my first day in the flat I flipped on the lights and blew every one of them. I looked for the fuse box but it was so dark I couldn’t find anything, so I knocked on Miriam’s door and pointed to the chasm I’d hoped to fill with light. Ah! she cried, Hafuzim!! Of course. Hafuzim were located in the vast flat cupboard along the passage to our doors and revealed a panoply of fuse-boards from the year dot to the present. As we searched for the one that might help me, neighbours began to come home and of course all stopped to identify (but not mark) their own, give undoubtedly good advice or just clutter up the narrow hallway as we experimented with each fuse box. At last, my lights came on. One man said (in English, where had he been?): Call your landlord, that shouldn’t have happened. Please tell Miriam, I begged, I don’t have a phone. That started an entirely new commotion. Of course I had to turn immediately into Miriam’s apartment—without the requisite phone number. Go explain.
Landlords in Israel are generally as contentious as in any country but Jerusalem landlords are tough as can be. Lucky me, I had a sweetheart of a one who promised to come up from his home in Be’er Sheva ASAP.
Friday morning, early, the landlord arrived with his giant wife, three children and a baby. He installed a new fuse box—the envy of all the neighbours. Collecting his children he apologized for the American toilet roll strewn over the flat—they had never seen such a remarkable item. I thanked him profusely, or should I say pro-fuse-ly…
cross posted Geoffff's Joint