Orna Raz

Blood, toil, tears and sweat? No, Just Luck

Several months after the Likud party had won the historic election in 1977, we left Israel. A year later, upon our return to Tel Aviv, we didn’t recognize the place: inflation was rampant and the whole life centered around it.

We needed to find an apartment to rent but prices were high and were set in dollars. When we finally found an affordable place, each month we paid a little more than the previous month. Once, in the middle of the year, when the dollar had reached yet another height, we had to beg our land lady, not to raise the rent yet again. That land lady, a girl in her mid twenties, just like us, sympathized with our plight and agreed.

Those few young people who inherited apartments, like our land lady, were especially lucky.  But at the time, most of our married friends also owned an apartment which they had bought with the aid of a special government program known as the “young couples loan.” Their monthly payments were reasonable since they had a fixed mortgage, 

For us life in Tel Aviv was stressful, having to worry constantly about next month’s rent, and spending most of our paychecks on food, which we purchased, for the whole month, the minute we got paid. It was almost impossible to lead a normal life because of the inflation rollercoaster. 

Still we had a choice, and  in less than a year we were back in the US pursuing a graduate degree.

When we returned to Israel almost nine years later, it transpired that not everyone had suffered the consequences of the 1980s inflation, quite the contrary. For example, many then-young people who were in the housing market had actually benefited from it.

Young couples who were married in the mid to late 1970s and bought an apartment using the special government loan, practically got their mortgage paid for. In 1971 inflation was 13% and it accelerated to 111% in 1979, it was a huge break.

I often hear people of my generation speak about the shrewdness of their financial decisions, many attribute their achievements to hard work: blood, toil, tears and sweat. It may be somewhat true, but it is not the whole story. They were just at the right place at the right time, or in other words, they were lucky.

Soon after, because of that inflation, the policy regarding government loans changed and “young couples loans” ceased to be attractive.

In contrast to countries like Germany and the US  where most  young professionals, especially in big cities, are content to live in rented properties, the symbol of success for young Israelis, was always owning  an apartment. Unfortunately this is almost impossible in Israel today.

On the other hand, in terms of affordable housing for rent, not much has been done since the crazy days of inflation in the early 1980s. My husband and I were not the only ones who left Israel at that time feeling that there was no future here for us.

Israelis were forced to let go of so many dreams, isn’t it time to be realistic and finally build affordable long term accommodation in areas where young families live and work?

When we talk, yet again, about the necessity of providing additional public housing for weak segments of the population, we should not forget our young people. Like my generation, they too deserve some kind of a break. They must have basic economic and emotional stability so that they feel they could build a future here in Israel.

About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. .
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