Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Under one Tel Aviv roof


Apartment-owners in the four-story Tel Aviv building where I live are trying to form a house committee.

A house committee is an Israeli institution, authorized by law. It is empowered to collect money from residents to pay for common needs, big and small. These can include washing the stairs once a week, or renovating an entire building.

We meet to talk about it.

Until recently, I was the only apartment-owner in the building. The 10 other apartments were rental properties, owned by heirs of the person who put up the building in the 1930s. Last year the landlords started selling their property, apartment by apartment. Now we have new residents.

We go around the table, each neighbor taking a few minutes to state what they want or don't want.

It turns out that English is the group's only common language. A couple from Paris don't understand Hebrew, and most of us don't speak French.

The Parisians are part of a wave of newcomers from France. Anti-Jewish violence has been on the rise in recent years in the land of liberty, equality and fraternity. In our Tel Aviv neighborhood, the signs in some real estate agencies are only in French---no Hebrew, no English, no Russian, only French. You hear people speaking French on the streets and in the supermarket.

Almost everyone at our meeting seems to want something different.

One neighbor brings up the possibility of installing an elevator, as a way to raise the values of the apartments.

The youngest apartment-owner, who is in his final university semester, notes that the building facade needs fixing up.

Another neighbor is concerned about the structure's vulnerability to earthquakes. He wonders if we can take advantage of government aid that is available for reinforcing older buildings such as ours. Israel's location along the Syrian-African rift virtually assures another Big One in the future, like the deadly quakes of 1759, 1837 and 1927.

The French couple want to make the building look better from the street. This comes first, she says. He agrees.

Another apartment-owner's principal concern is that the front door doesn't lock and the intercom system doesn't work. She worries about personal security.

It looks like Israel in a nutshell. Even under the same roof, people have divergent priorities---money, security, outward appearance---and nothing will be achieved unless someone volunteers.

In the end, we agree that studio apartments will pay 25 shekels a month (almost $6 at current exchange rates) and larger apartments will pay 60 shekels (almost $14.30). This will give us enough to pay for weekly cleaning of the stairs and entrance. It will buy electricity to light the staircase and entry. Bigger plans will wait until we know each other more.

--Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

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'Like this, as if' is a literal translation of Hebrew slang, 'kahzeh ke'ilu.' This Hebrew expression is a literal translation of 'so, like,' as in 'It was so, like, cool.' A weblog translating Israeli life into English.

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