Thursday, March 20, 2014

Letter From Israel

 elinor        אלינור                          

Home Invasion

To begin with—not at the beginning, but closer to the front of this story—when I first married, I became a second wife.  In the flush of a brand-new (re)marriage, my then husband bought me jewellery.  Not much, but ‘good stuff’.  Amongst this stuff was a lovely jade pin, surrounded by diamonds.  Definitely good stuff.  Earrings followed, then more pins and earrings, although not of the same calibre. 

When my father died he left me his key chain, a lovely piece of braided gold, and his pinkie ring which, it seems, had a diamond of some significance in it.  More good stuff.

Everywhere I schlepped my jewels, from Montreal to Florida to Montgomery, Alabama back to Florida to Jerusalem to Melbourne, Australia and back to Israel, there were available bank safety deposit boxes to hire.  My only worry was bank safety deposit box robberies. 

I’d had just one experience with losing stuff, when I lived in Florida.  Eventually every building in the south, certainly up to the time I abandoned ship, became infested with termites.  Termites require poison, and the professionals know exactly how to do that.  Every living thing has to be removed from the residence—people, animals, fish, plants, whatever.  A giant tent is created, actually sewn together to suit, which covers the entire building. 

The individual apartments must be left unlocked so that the gas can escape after all the termites are dead.  Someone has the job of opening the apartment front doors at the appropriate time and once, a robber or two followed a door or two behind, scooping up the best of jewel boxes, small appliances and such.  It seems that the door-opener person either never looked behind him, or was one of the gang. 

I will never forget seeing the contents of my jewel box spread in a wide semi-circle on my bedspread.  Only the good pieces were missing, amongst which was my father’s keychain.  Ah, well.  These things are not given to us in perpetuity.

All that took place circa 1975.  Years later I was living in Israel, where the feeling of trust has lasted much longer than in other ‘more civilised’ countries where I’ve lived.  Doors used to be left open; windows still are.  And so, when I invited two of my grandsons to have a falafel dinner with me at the corner, I did not go around closing windows and locking them, did I.

We were gone for about half an hour.  In fact, the excursion was extended by about 10 minutes because I insisted that the falafel place up the street also served schwarma (which I prefer) and the boys said it didn’t.  So we walked up a few blocks, confirmed that the boys were absolute right and returned to the falafel place nearest home. 

Exiting the lift, I stopped short at the open door to the flat.  Didn’t I lock the door? I asked the boys, who assured me that I did.  Trusting their young memories, I stepped into the flat to see every kitchen cupboard door  open.

I stood in the hallway with my jaw hanging.  Wait here, said the bigger grandson (a champion MMA fighter because he’s larger than all his less courageous age-suitable opponents, who decline to fight him).  I never had the sense to say Don’t go in, let’s call the cops from here, but there was no one else in the flat. 

After awhile the police wandered by to see why we rang.  The boys asked, Why did you take so long to get here?  Well, there were two other robberies, one at #16—we’re at #20—and one on the street behind us, all unpleasantly recent, like our own.  We later found out that there are now organised gangs of criminals who drive into our town at sunset, burgle a series of flats and leave directly.

But I’ll tell you what I’m beginning to understand: Criminal profiling.  In the weeks that followed the break-in, instead of dwelling on my losses, I began to think about how this invasion was carried out.

Most notable was the window entry into the main bedroom, which is on the street side.  Interesting choice, because there are windows which open onto the shaded driveway side.

However, there is a building element—a narrow bar about 25 cm square—which goes from under the balcony to under the main bedroom and though the invaders could easily be seen by neighbours leaving/entering the building, why would anyone look up?  So, climbing onto the roof of a handily parked car, the thieves must have swung up onto the bar, kneeled on the window sill (knee marks can still be seen), slid back the shutters (which didn’t lock) and the window (which didn’t lock either) and entered the room.  There is about a hand-space between safety and knocking over a fragile lamp. The invader must have been quite slim.  According to the police, s/he opened the front door to an accomplice, then locked it against any other entry.

They did virtually no damage, despite my having to spend a week making order in the flat after they left.  The only damage I noted was a tiny loop in my empty jewel case, torn in the haste to grab anything that might be of value.  It had held a 1950s collar pin which will probably come back into style someday—remember them?  Awkward and uncomfortable, they went into the collar, under the tie and back out through the collar.  But apart from that, anything that once held jewellery was left behind, empty, unzipped and unharmed—ready for another lifetime of collecting valuables.  No way.

Some cupboards were rifled, a few drawers opened, not wasting time on closing them.  One drawer, known to be sticky, was kicked out of whack.  I often felt like doing that too.

My closet, the mother lode, no hanging space, just shelves.  Except for the one shelf that held cosmetic articles left completely untouched, the contents of every other shelf had been swept onto the floor, a space of not quite a square meter.  I try to imagine the sequence:  Top shelf first?  Unlikely shelves last?  Delve, then shove? 

Every box was opened and dumped.  The contents of my MEMORABILIA box, which held mostly papers, were scattered liberally.  No Latin students in attendance.

Cash, put aside in different places for different purposes, was gone.  They found it all.  The kitchen freezer, a popular location for hiding stuff, seemed untouched.  How did they know there was no reason to unload it? 

When I contemplated the missing jewellery I wondered:  Is there a small, portable metal detector available on the market?  Their skills were admirable.  It’s as though they knew where I kept the important stuff and all other effort at finding it was pro forma.

Gotta admit, I’m angry.  My pearl ring—too big after I’d lost some weight, but a real favourite—gone.  They could have left me something...

On the other hand, the feeling of relief was undeniable.  Not having to worry about this happening, to start with, then the freedom of not carrying my jewels from pillar to post any further. 

The home alarm system is being installed as we speak.   


  1. In the greatest teevee show of all time, Breaking Bad, an extermination company was used as the front for Walter White's meth cooking operation in later seasons. I'm sure that was probably based on the fact that it's obvious to anyone that, if one were inclined to criminality, it's probably one of the better businesses to operate from.

    We don't have to worry about termites here in North Philadelphia, too much, but rather need to worry about our homes sinking into the ground. Entire neighborhoods in North Philadelphia have been demolished and abandoned due to this, and other neighborhoods around the city continue to sink into the ground on top of cheap fill to this day. The 90-year old Kensington rowhouse I rent in right now is probably sinking, and is definitely noticeably crooked. It's something I've gotta be aware of when I buy a home in ORCA, East Kensington or Fishtown in three years.

    But anyway...

    I keep hearing stories about those times when people left doors unlocked and windows open, etc etc. I understand it was even (allegedly) a thing people did around here in the 50s and 60s, before deindustrialization and drugs sent the neighborhood into a tailspin from which it's only just now recovering. I don't really have anything worth stealing, and if I take my laptop with me somewhere then I essentially have nothing whatsoever at home worth stealing, but I'm still in the habit of sealing everything up airtight, even during the height of summer (I have no a/c, window units of which are also sometimes an entry point for burglars via just kicking 'em right out) and even when I'm just walking down the block for a beer or two.

    I do have to sleep with windows open during the summer, though.

    My alarm system in that case consists of Pennsylvania's Castle Doctrine and a couple of home defense tools that go bang, if need be.

    You know what's a great anti-theft program that more places should institute? Operation ID.

    It's not gonna stop theft of jewelry, I guess, but for larger things, particularly electronics and appliances, it seems a pretty solid deterrent. I am a huge fan of this program, needless to say.

    I wonder how widespread such programs are?

  2. Jay, reading your comment I thought: Jay should have his own blog. Not being totally incapable of answering my own thoughts, I discovered that Jay actually has his own blog, and a good one, too. In Israel, BTW, the leaving of doors unlocked, windows open etc held sway right up until the late 80s. I arrived here on the day the first intifada began and, I'm told, the country changed then. Thanks for your comments.