Home October 2014 House-swapping, Anyone?

House-swapping, Anyone?

It was an early springtime Shabbat morning when I had an epiphany. Let’s sub-let our Jerusalem apartment for Pesach and visit my children in South Africa! It was a flash of pure genius; with little effort, we’d cover the exorbitant cost of the airfare and have enough left over to buy gifts and hire someone to make the kitchen kosher-for-Pesach with the dishes we keep in the storeroom (three floors below in a non-elevator building). Waiting for my husband to return from synagogue, the plan gelled and took form. After a kiddush replete with scotch and pickled herring, he’d be putty in my hands.
Two l’chaims later, he was all ears, and by the third jigger, he was waxing emotional about his childhood in the now non-inhabitable Johannesburg neighborhoods of Hillbrow and Yeoville. I felt teary and self-important, being the facilitator of a waltz down Memory Lane with the man I love.
That night I called our barely adequate travel agent, Heshie, who promised the best deal imaginable. Amazingly, he found an unbelievable bargain: two round-trip tickets for the cost of one ticket on a preferred airline. The only caveat was a seven-hour stopover in Cairo. No problem! We have peace with Egypt, don’t we???
That week I posted digital photos of our home on several Yahoo groups and Facebook. Initially thinking my home possessed an “earthy charm,” it became evident that it was downright shabby, with jutting electrical outlets, institutional white paint, and a kitchen that was not modern enough for Golda Meir to cook in. The two bathrooms are a tad more modern than outhouses because they boast taps and occasionally running water.
While the place is a dump, it’s our dump and we hoped that someone would feel excited by the prospect of spending a month living among the amcha, aka common folks. Still, except for being only a 40-minute walk from the Western Wall, my neighborhood is off the beaten-path of everything. The bus runs in front of our home, but tourists occasionally have a bad attitude toward public transportation, ever since a few motor-coaches exploded in recent decades. We live between two Arab villages, which makes for a beautiful view but, again, the wedding celebration gun-shots and frequent Border Patrol clashes with stone-throwing teens might concern potential renters. We did not give up. Someone-oh-someone would want to experience living like a real Israeli. They would! They would!
Less than a week before the departure date, the apartment still not rented, I’d gone into overdraft for the airfare, and we received unexpected news from Heshie-the-Horrible. The bargain flight to Johannesburg via Cairo was canceled, but we could take a connecting flight 24 hours later. After acquiring visas. And spending a night in Cairo. Two days traveling for a typically nine-hour flight. Between discussions of canceling and considering taking second and third jobs each, we got calls from the children, telling us how excited they were about our visit. In the end, we flew Ethiopian Air. Don’t ask. . . .
By Rosh HaShanah, we’d paid off the trip and were able to pray, unencumbered by financial obstacles in our spiritual paths. And lo and behold, by Yom Kippur we received a call from Johannesburg explaining that we’re again expected at the Seder table. Without missing a beat, we both shouted  “Yes!”
Suppressing additional epiphanies, we have placed an old tzedakah box on the window sill for the express purpose of covering the expenses of the now-annual excursion, placing more faith in God and our day jobs than in either Heshie or the internet.

New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at elkadee@netvision.net.il.

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