Chicago Bound

Hey hey,

On Thursday I take a plane to Chicago to take part in another joyous wedding. My friends are making the wedding internationally themed–my friend Symi has studied and traveled abroad and her fiance, Justin, finished an MA at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. Supposedly I will be sitting among people whose topic of interest is the Middle East–from both sides of the fence. It should be interesting.

It will be interesting to get people’s responses–whether they are Israel friendly or not–to the fact that I am now from Israel. In the case of anti-Israel folk I feel like it is the mark of Cain. In some people’s minds it’s like saying, ‘hey I’m an ax murderer, you should avoid me at all costs or else scorn me!’ and ‘I represent a very politically incorrect form of ideology called Zionism–aren’t I weird?’

For the ambivalent or disinterested (particularly among the Jews) it might result in a reaction of confusion, dumbfoundedness, surprise, puzzlement, scorn, condescension, lack of interest, support, attempts to sound supportive, curiosity, fascination, inquisitiveness–in other words, it’s all across the board. Typically one gets the question, ‘Is it safe over there, are you worried about your safety, it’s like a war-zone right?’

On to more mundane aspects of life. We signed a contract for an apartment and are moving out of the Merkaz Klitah. The Klitah was a very inexpensive and perfect landing ground, but we are ready for more space and sick of living out of suitcases (which we’ve done for 2 months in the U.S. and here).

The apartment consisted of one room, a small kitchen area and a bathroom. The furniture was very rickety and the bathroom is one of those Israeli types where the shower drain is in the middle of the floor and you have to squeegee after your shower. I never understood that concept because you have to walk around a wet bathroom and use a wet toilet after your shower. Oh and we also had no A/C, and I found two cockroaches.

Good news is that they have been renovating some of the apartments with new closets, floors and appliances. And like I said, it really helps people–especially singles and young families–who need a soft crash pad until they can find work, save up for an apartment, etc.

The best part of the Merkaz are the people who are very friendly. The people who run the center are incredibly nice and helpful. The residents are also very sociable and many hail from South America. Others are from South Africa, U.S., Europe. Supposedly you can only stay for 6 mos but I met many people who managed to stay longer. I can’t blame them because Israel can be an expensive place to live. Even with the benefits, the low salaries and high costs of living can be a strain.

I surely can attest to that fact. For example, even though our rent is cheaper and our apartment is certainly nicer and bigger, Eric’s salary is lower, so the rent is a bigger portion of his salary. POne of the reasons rent is higher than it should be is because there is a shortage of rentals. There is also a housing shortage. What remains to be seen is how the government plans to deal with the even larger housing shortage if there is a withdrawal of settlements from the West Bank. Has anyone ever thought of that?

lus because it is so hard to get rid of bad tenants (due to Israeli law), landlord have created steep conditions for renting out their apartments. Typically you are asked to pay several months at a time of rent in advance and also front a bank guarantee of 10,000-15,000 shekels or get two guarantors to physically sign a document. So you have to have a good chunk of money already put away to cover startup costs. In my opinion, the result is that the pro-tenant Israeli law ends up backfiring. While the leases are more likely to prevent tenants from trashing the apartments, they put a not so insignificant financial burden on the leasees.

We cannot complain, though. Our landlord is a very nice guy from England. The contract is very straightforward, and the landlord’s South African lawyer repeatedly said that if we needed any help with our aliyah process, we should call him. Only in Israel. Most important of all, we really like the apartment, which is in a very green area and is just a 5 minute walk from the conservative shul. We are also fortunate that Eric’s salary is very good by Israeli standards. But I can understand how making a living in this country can be a struggle for many–whether immigrant or not–and we will certainly have to be very careful with our own spending.

Time to pack up my clothes for Chicago and reorganize my stuff so that Eric can schlep it to our apartment. I’ll write again after my trip across the Atlantic.

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