HomeJuly 2012A Chicken in Every Pot

A Chicken in Every Pot

Fraide and Monty Buchsbaum were the first ones to pay more than $300,000 for a house in my old neighborhood back in 1987.  It was a seven-room, wood-frame “splanch” (split-ranch) on a decent size property in the “preferred section” of town.  The shul went wild with anger.
“How could they have done that?  Why didn’t they consult with anyone?  Now no one will be able to buy a house here!” was the popular refrain.  The Orthodox community’s concern was somewhat understandable as nursery school enrollment had reached an all-time low, and the ebb and flow of shul membership had grown stagnant.  Other Jewish communities were closer to the city, boasted better shopping and municipal services, abutted terrific educational facilities and the homes were, consequently, more expensive.  But they sold.  Despite decades of creative campaigning designed to lure young, Torah-observant families into the bosom of my hometown by the sea, at times the effort appeared futile.
I can happily announce that, according to recent reports, this deliberately unnamed town is booming, and real estate prices have not only hit the roof: they’ve broken through.  The nursery school is bursting at the cornices, and the local shopping district is peppered with businesses – food and otherwise – that close their doors at sundown on Friday in honor of the Sabbath.  Ironically, the then-horrific purchase price of the aforementioned Buchsbaum home ($315,000) is today an ephemeral pipe dream.
Real estate can be a tricky thing, and putting a price on either four walls or an entire community may be considered arbitrary, but as of late, I’m not so certain.  Having been told by my previously delightful landlord that he was selling the spacious apartment that I’ve called home for six years, I spent one week walking into walls before I finally rose to the occasion and, raising my fist into the air like a defiant Scarlett O’Hara – sans the dirt-encrusted carrot – shouted, “I’ll never be homeless again!”
In keeping with the thinking of most locals, I don’t want any more foreigners purchasing property in Jerusalem and visiting only once a year in order to build a sukkah or eat some matzah while, for months at a time, that apartment sits empty and unrented.  Due to this phenomenon, entire streets have become virtual ghost towns while those who work, pay taxes, put children in uniform and keep the Zionist machine greased and running cannot afford to live in a city that needs to be inhabited.
Atypically, I know what I’m talking about here, because it only took me three days to discover that despite having what I thought was an admirable amount of saved money in my little fists, it seemed that I could not afford to purchase a modest apartment within a reasonable radius of the city.  The circle of possible communities kept widening as I worked my way past the inner city, the outer city, past the surrounding Arab communities, and moved toward what the world icily refers to as “settlements.”  Let me tell you something about the “settlements” that B’Tselem and CNN aren’t mentioning.  Real estate prices are hefty.
Since our enemies claim that the entire country is a “settlement,” I refused to get stuck on political semantics.  Instead I tried to locate an apartment on a decent bus line, near shopping, walking distance to a synagogue that felt culturally familiar and sported a zip code that said “Jerusalem.”  I wanted either a small garden or patio on which to place a grill, a view of something other than the building next door, room for my oversized sofas and baby-grand piano and, hope-against-hope, more than one toilet.  Oh, not too many steps as I plan to grow old (very old) in this home and be carried out after 120 years in a box.
Thus stated, I saw: dumps with views; fifth-floor penthouses with no elevators; dungeons with Jacuzzis; “charmers” without charm.  Asking anywhere between one and two million shekels, I climbed over disassembled bicycle parts and toppled recycling containers to see pleasant spaces in dire need of renovation that were housed in buildings that hadn’t seen a maintenance person wielding a damp mop for a very long time.  Was I being too picky?
Apparently not because I found it.  Located in an older building in a pastoral section of southern Jerusalem, my home was waiting for me.  Less than 100 meters of living space, the first floor walk-up was drenched in sunlight each of the three times I visited at decidedly different hours of the day.  And as with all of the other twenty-one apartments I’d previously seen, it would need an entirely new kitchen and, perhaps, the removal/replacement of a wall or two.  But I could sense that, in short order, it can become a home that will develop deep roots and belong to my disjointed family for decades to come.  I made the offer and with very little haggling, the absentee Tel Aviv owner and I came to an agreement, and a date was set for the signing of the contract.
Having never before purchased anything larger than a used car, the excitement is nearly as palpable as the fear, but I’m discovering that reaching a decision is extremely liberating: Before I found our new abode I felt not only unsettled but slightly ashamed in front of my current neighbors.  Indeed, during the short time that passed between learning that we were to be ousted and locating my future home, I felt ill at ease with those around me who enjoyed the security of knowing that the place they call ‘home’ is, indeed, theirs.  Perhaps a part of this “shame” was due to having behaved as though my current home is mine and “rudeness” of reminding me that I was not the master of my domain.  That this domain belonged to another and that my comfort-zone was fraudulently based.
As excited as I may be about finally owning a piece of property in this indescribable city, I am not insensitive to the fact that the family who is living there now and has been renting this future home of mine for the past five years will also have to move.  That the same feelings I’ve experienced about having to say goodbye to walls and floors and neighbors and the security that my house offered now belongs to these innocent parties.  And that just as my current landlord became a minor “enemy” for a brief period by mere virtue of exercising his right to sell, a household of strangers cannot be looking upon me with kindness.  It is a nagging feeling.
But life isn’t always fair, and time marches forward.  And I am not unaware that many, many people can never dream of “owning” and the blessings that continually cross my path are granted from Heaven, even when imbued with related responsibilities.
At the risk of sounding trite, the adage rings true whether figurative or literal:  When one door closes, another door opens.

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