Six and a half years ago, my husband and I purchased land as part of a kevutzat rechisha (a group of people who purchase land and build their homes together) in hopes to get into the property market in Jerusalem at a lower price. Before making aliyah, we were fortunate to have purchased a home in Australia. It was in excellent condition, there were few if any repairs necessary and it completely suited our needs then as a family of two adults and two children. From the time of purchase till taking occupancy, the turn-around time was a mere two months. Almost too quick to even get used to the idea.
Our experience in Jerusalem was almost the exact opposite. We were told the entire project from time of purchase until moving in would be two years (we assumed that really meant around four years at most). As I write this article, it has been six and a half years from time of purchase and we hope to move in another month, G-d willing, but who the heck really knows!
At each turn, we have experienced every hiccup imaginable. We were told that the previous occupants were elderly and wanted to move on. They didn’t and this led to a lengthy court case. Once that was resolved, one of the previous tenants had a stroke and the group gave them time to recover before kicking him out (weren’t we nice?!). Then all the pre-building contracts had to be obtained through the Iriya (city municipality) until four years later when we were finally allowed to start building. Hooray, the end is nigh, we naively believed!
As another example, we thought we were being smart by purchasing all of the floor tiles at the start of the process. We actually did this twice, because the first time we did this we didn’t secure the order with a deposit and the tiles we chose were no longer available the second time around. The next time, I thought I was smart to put the money down because at least this meant my tiles were now held. While this should have made sense, somehow it didn’t. The shop where we purchased tiles from went out of business. Rather than being able to store all the tiles until we needed them, we had to make room in our store room and pay to then move them again to our property as needed. When it came to actually putting the tiles in, somehow we didn’t have enough of them. Some went missing altogether. Others broke. So we had to search around for more. Good forward thinking turned into the worst idea ever!
Then there was purchasing what we thought was the right complimentary tile, but wasn’t. Having to return that and start all over. Having two different carpenters argue over which was the correct color of wood, after producing a very expensive sliding door and supposedly matching wall unit.
It has been an exhausting experience as I am sure you can tell from reading this. And to top it all, we still don’t have any clear date for taking occupancy. This requires obtaining “tofes arba” (certificate of occupancy) without which utilities such as water, electricity and gas cannot be connected. The date for this keeps changing. In truth, no-one knows when it will happen, and it seems like we are waiting for Godot.
So here is where having a strong marriage comes into play. You may be reading this and think, “Wow, I would never get myself into this crazy mess!” Believe me, we thought this way too. But what happens when you and your partner have completely different ideas about your ideal home and you can’t find a place to live in that you can both agree on? You spend months and years of your lives searching for apartments, yet each has more challenges than the next. So building a place from scratch with all that goes along with it sounds like a better option because you can find ways of compromising while you plan it together.
The builder wants to move quickly so he can get on to his next project, but as the apartments take shape, the homeowners begin to realize that their original plans don’t quite match with how their apartment sits in real space. The way you thought the light would fall is completely different from how you hoped. You suddenly remember that you needed a spot for your umbrella and shopping trolley and you had to redesign a new niche. The tiles you chose look terrible in the actual space, and as building has taken so long, you had another baby and your elderly parents have decided to make aliyah and move in with you, so you need to carve out new space for several more people with differing needs. As time marches on, tensions rise. You think back to all the semi-decent apartments you originally had seen and think that surely you could have made one of those work.
Building a home anywhere in the world is laden with all sorts of stresses and tensions, but in this country, you have to throw into the mix the political situation which means that the builders may not be the same throughout the process.
Soon, you realize that the level of quality you thought you were paying for is relative and only based on your current knowledge. You need to always think as far ahead into the future as possible so that hidden surprises don’t bite you in the backside. Even if you are a super adventurous person who isn’t a perfectionist or a control freak and you can let most things go, can you hold on to your own anxiety and not take your angst out on your partner? Is your sense of humor strong enough to see the funny side of the absurd and the ridiculous. When your anger arises in you so strongly, can you resist the urge to not become abusive? It’s a serious challenge. One that requires a tremendous amount of grit, courage, and emotional strength. Building in Israel is a huge test of nerves and patience. Before you get started, ask yourself are you up for this kind of test and do you have the emotional supports and skills in place to make it through intact.
Being able to acknowledge and talk through your feelings, realizing you both made this choice and that there are blind spots with building anywhere, but especially Israel, and knowing how to communicate your feelings without blame. These are just a few of the substantial skills you will need should you wish to build here. One thing you can be certain of is that there will always be surprises. Uncertainty is a certainty in this case!