Every few years, my wife and I find ourselves looking for a new apartment to temporarily call home. The process is exhausting and involves calling complete strangers and awkwardly asking them about the details of their apartment. After having done this a few times in the nine years of living here as an adult, I’ve come to the realization that three things make you an Israeli (and none of them involve making aliyah, going to an ulpan or having some hummus at Abu Hassan)
So you wanna know the three things that make you a native Israeli?
1. Buying a used car. If you can haggle your way into a car that doesn’t have a faulty transmission, engine or is generally falling apart then you’re a native. However, if you overpay (not based on a common “blue book” value, but rather based on the opinion of the kiosk owner, your neighbor and that random dude who hangs out in the parking lot of your building) then you are just a freir.
2. Serving in the army. This is a big one. You’ll never truly understand Israeli culture unless you put on that itchy uniform, uncomfortable boots and stand in line in 45 degree heat for some overcooked schnitzel. Ben Gurion called it the “people’s army” and he was right. Basic training will make you appreciate how much of a melting pot this country really is. An American, an Israeli, a Russian, an Uzbeki, a Belgian a Georgian, an Ethiopian, a Ukrainian and an Argentine, mostly Jews, in one tent. The great state of Israel boiled down to one stereotypical microcosm. A burekas movie so absurdly fictional it’s hard to believe this could ever be mistaken for truth
3. Renting an apartment. I’m not talking about some Facebook group of apartments in Tel Aviv where young Anglos living in Israel rent and share apartments in some orgy of millennial bullshit. No, I’m talking about renting an apartment from an Israeli. If you manage to navigate this unenviable task, then congratulations dear friend, you’re a native.
We thought that this time around it would be easy; We’re living in Or Yehuda, a small town wedged cozily between Trash Mountain and the airport, the jewel of the Ono Valley. How hard could it be to find a modestly priced three bedroom apartment that meets our basic requirements?
- A decent kitchen (we both like to cook)
- A bathtub (we take baths)
- A porch (where I can smoke joints and contemplate the futility of existence… and maybe host a bbq)
- Neighbors that don’t play karaoke
- Near our son’s school (so we can eventually raise a latchkey kid… don’t judge. I was a latchkey kid and I turned out alright… kinda)
The first place we saw was a small house in the Ramat Pinkas neighborhood (which I pronounce Pink-Ass) to the chagrin of the landlady. It has a huge yard (with a koy pond and fish… which we are contractually obligated to keep alive) The house itself has been rented for the past three years by a single dad and his weekend daughter. Apparently he’s moving out because he got back together with his wife. The place has a layer of dust 12 inches deep. The landlord just shakes her head (“He hasn’t cleaned once in three years!”)
I can’t imagine why his wife ever left him.
It was pricey and even though we saw potential (it met all of our criteria) we hesitated and a dozen people followed us that same day. One of them closed on it.
Good luck keeping the fish alive.
I’m not going to go into detail about the second, third, fourth or fifth place. They were all overpriced dumps with one or more fatal flaw. There was the place with the dead cockroaches all over the floor (“we just fumigated”), the place with the wooden paneled ceiling (“Imported from Sweden!”) which was occupied by a full time art teacher who should have been featured on “hoarders”, and the pièce de résistance, the crème de la crème, an apartment that was about to undergo “major renovation” and was scheduled to be torn down and re-built sometime in the next few months (“They’ve been saying that for years!”) but the landlord promised us a slight reduction in rent if they did start to tear it down.
On the brink of desperation, my wife found a wildly underpriced apartment right next to our son’s school. It had a huge balcony with a view (of the fields outside Savyon), a renovated bathtub and a huge living room. It was neglected and desperately needed TLC. My wife saw potential and had dreamt up how she would fix it up to make it our little paradise. On the day we were about to sign the lease the landlord confided in us that she needed cash in lieu of checks because she was on disability and didn’t want to pass the income tax earnings threshold. So we were now knowingly aiding and abetting a fraud against the government. Oy. We didn’t return any of the seventeen calls from the landlord and her foul mouthed lawyer.
We didn’t give up. We couldn’t. We had no choice. So we set up a time to see one more place. My wife spoke to the landlord and she said she would meet us there at 7:00 PM sharp. We arrived and after knocking loudly for ten minutes an old Georgian man in a stained wife beater opened up and looked at us like we were television tax collectors. He didn’t speak a word of Hebrew and was blasting the Olympics so loud (“Bolt wins the Gold medal! The fastest man alive…”) he could barely hear us, even with his earpiece. His wife, a frail old woman helped by a live-in aide, walks up to me slowly and points a grim, bony finger at me and in perfect Hebrew says: “I know you. I know YOU! You!” I have never been more terrified in my life.
The place itself was garishly decorated in the Georgian style. Huge wooden armoirs, chandeliers and gilded closets in the bedrooms. It was modestly priced. No porch, no bathtub, no spare room for work… none of our criteria, yet for some reason it felt like home.
The daughter, a well dressed Georgian woman, enters and sits down at the table with us and before we have a chance to say anything, asks point blank: “You don’t know who I am, do you?” No we did not. Georgian Mafia? Celebrity? Author? Nope. City council member and head of the opposition. “Did you know that the mayor hasn’t fulfilled any of her promises regarding education? I’m running for office in the next elections and I hope I have secured your vote!” So was this some grass roots marketing ploy? Advertise an apartment, get young couples to come by and then lay down the election spiel?
An hour later she wrapped up her campaign promises and told us that her lawyer would be in touch with our lawyers with the contract (“What, you don’t have lawyers?”)
I don’t think we’ll ever find an apartment, but I’m comforted by the fact that with each new experience I draw one step closer to being a native.