Life sometimes takes us on winding, unexpected paths until we finally feel that we have arrived home.
Nineteen years ago, my husband and I sold our first apartment, a fourth-floor walk-up in Talpiot, a neighborhood we loved in south Jerusalem, and followed the educational needs of one of our two sons to the north of the city. Our plan was to stay in our second home, a spacious townhouse in Ramot, until our sons graduated high school and elementary school respectively, and then to return to the south of the city. But just before we reached that milestone, our family expanded in an unusual way: a tragedy brought us an 11-year-old who had lived in Ramot for his whole life. We could not imagine removing him from his familiar environs, so we abandoned our plans and stayed put – until our new son asked us to relocate to Talpiot because his new friends from high school lived there. Clearly it was time to move.
The gap between real estate prices in the north and south of the city, however, put a home with enough bedrooms out of our reach. So, six years ago, we rented out our home in Ramot and rented an apartment in Arnona, just down the block from our first home. Three years later, when it became clear we would never return to the north of the city, I blogged a tearful farewell to my children’s childhood home after signing a contract for its sale, and consoled myself with the thought that it would soon be filled with the laughter of other children.
To our shock and dismay, our home in Ramot never became another family’s home. Today it is gutted, its windows gaping holes, frozen at the point at which the municipality stopped the new owners from turning it into a yeshiva. Such is life in north Jerusalem. My heart aches when I see it.
In the meantime, our rented apartment saw college give way to marriage and employment for one of our sons, and high school give way to IDF service for the other two. It has been a good home for our boys, big enough to accommodate friends from school, mechina, and the army, relatives from abroad, and girlfriends, sometimes all at the same time. But it’s not ours, and each time we approach the end of our lease we do not know if it will be renewed.
A few weeks ago, as we approached the end of another lease, we decided to explore our options. Convinced that we would not be able to afford an apartment that would meet our needs, we embarked on a whirlwind of intensive looking, just to know that we had tried. The Internet accelerated the process. We scoured the Yad2 and Madlan websites, occasionally recognizing the same property listed with multiple agents, sometimes with huge differences in price. We pored over the current master plan for Talpiot-Arnona, studied a map of properties undergoing Tama 38 urban renewal, and analyzed images of the planned neighborhood of Mordot Arnona, to get a sense of what the neighborhood will look like in the future. A government real estate site showed us the actual sale price, number of meters, and number of rooms of all apartments sold in the neighborhood in recent years, giving us a sense of what prices really are, rather than what the sellers would like us to believe.
Facebook was also a valuable resource. Searches in “Living Financially Smarter in Israel” revealed the option of taking a low interest loan against a Keren Hishtalmut savings plan, and raised the possibility of negotiating the amount of agent’s fees, bringing a home closer to our reach. Searches in “Building in Israel” instantly put us in touch with a structural engineer and an architect who had both received numerous recommendations. And “What’s the Law in Israel?” equipped us with information that enabled us to ask our own lawyer intelligent questions.
After just two weeks, when we had seen all the relevant possibilities, timing, good fortune, and fate miraculously aligned. We added a large dose of faith, a whisper of imagination, and a dash of love, and reached a decision to buy a new home.
It is a humble and compact home with charm and character, tucked away amidst old poplar trees and chirping birds, far from the street, and hidden from view. It’s near a bus line, within the green line, near a leading center of women’s religious education, and a short walk from the new American embassy. It was the first flat we saw and it felt immediately familiar, combining favorite elements from each of our previous homes: a living room where West winds can blast in cool air at the end of sizzling summer days and the sky can glow orange over the hilltops as Shabbat approaches; a sunny southern corner where we can read newspapers on Shabbat afternoons; a balcony with boxes of geraniums and a pergola just waiting for a Sukkah; a winding wooden staircase in the middle of the dining room; a freestanding stove where our fireplace once was, and room for my piano, from which I have been separated for the last six years.
It is a home where my husband and I will write the story of our future, where we will be able to celebrate, to weather life’s storms, and to make new memories. We can see ourselves living there, writing there, and drawing there, although it’s not yet clear exactly where that will be. We can see our boys piling in on weekends and gathering around the Shabbat table, with shining faces added as the family grows. In our mind’s eye we are stretching out a table for the Passover Seder, walking with future grandchildren to the nearby playground, and setting out to the dog park with the canine companion of our retirement years. Looking further into the future, we can see ourselves growing old there, installing a lift if we can no longer climb the stairs to the entrance, sipping cups of tea (which neither of us drink), as we listen to the sunbirds and reminisce about the good old days, before the towers on Derech Hebron (many more are on the way) were built.
It is a home that has been cherished for 37 years by its owners, who watched its foundations laid and who lovingly reshaped it as their family grew. It is a home that they are leaving for no reason other than the pull of their grandchildren in a city far away.
After we signed a preliminary agreement, I was amazed and elated. But I knew that just a few blocks away, the owners of our future home must be experiencing the same bittersweet feelings that I felt when we sold my children’s childhood home. So I printed out a copy of “Farewell, my Jerusalem home,” and left it in their mailbox with a note acknowledging those feelings and promising that I will always love their home. Several hours later, I received an email, mother to mother:
I found your letter in our letterbox and deeply appreciate your personal note. It means so much to us to hand over our home to a loving family (I know you understand exactly how we feel) and we have found that family in you and Eliezer. I really hope that you will be able to write a blog titled “Hello, my Jerusalem Home” about your new home.
And now that the contract has been signed, I have done just that.