Thursday, December 25, 2014

The One with the Stairs

           Welcome to part 2 of my post on finding an apartment in Jerusalem! As I mentioned earlier, I finally found a place to live, on my own, in the center of town in Jerusalem. It was at the upper end of my budget, but I was determined to make it work. The only issue that had me concerned was the fact that it was a loft space, with only a rickety ladder connecting the main area to the loft/sleeping area.
            My Persian landlords (pertinent information for the story) assured me they would build me a small staircase to connect the two. They even put "new staircase" in our contract along with "small fridge" (aka mini fridge, as it turned out) and some other goodies to sweeten the deal. As I had never signed my own lease contract (in a foreign language) before, I gave the lease to some very well-meaning, very non- lawyer Israelis I knew. They seemed super concerned about the contents of the contract but I soon found out it was all standard. As in, "I signed my life away" standard. No matter! I had an apartment to move into and my stairs were going to be built and life was sababa!
             The first snag came whenever I would ask the landlords when the stairs were being built. The answer was always either "next week" or "tomorrow" when in actuality they were not being built next week or tomorrow! A month before I had to move out, I was chilled about the situation, but as my eviction- from- ulpan date neared, I started to get a little panicked. The stairs were taking too long, the landlords said they were getting too pricey, there wasn't enough room for them, and on and on the complaints mounted. All I wanted was to head up to bed at night without taking my life in my hands- was that too much to ask?! Add to this my whole "furnishing an empty box" situation- I had my closet and bed being delivered to a loft with only a rickety ladder! Finally one day, I came into the landlords' store, two doors away from my apartment building and Mr. H had a big smile on his face. He told me to "go check upstairs" and I was absolutely gobsmacked! After weeks of waiting, my stairs were built with no fanfare and not even a word to me- a special surprise! I ran up the stairs and peered at the area where they should be but saw no stairs. Weird. Then I noticed something on the exact opposite side of the apartment. My stairs had been built, big and strong, on the wrong side! 
I was a ball of emotions; confused, excited and ultimately horrified. Because, you see, the stairs had been built completely blocking the indentation in the wall meant to house my closet! Which would be delivered in 30 minutes! 
Um, are these stairs blocking anything important?
I ran back down to the landlords and in a rush of Hebrew, English and tears, demanded to know how and why this happened. After no less than ten conversations dedicated to "the stairs situation", why was the concept of putting the stairs on the other side of the room never mentioned? Why were they put up with no consultation with the person who would be using them? The landlords were shocked. They thought I would be happy! In a mixture of Hebrew, Farsi and tongue clicks, they assured me this was the best option. And in the midst of this chaos, my closet arrived! Except now it had no home, so it sat in the center of the apartment, one gigantic testament to the silliness of the stairs current location. The landlords tried valiantly to show me where my closet should now sit, but in such a small space, there is a place for everything and everything had it's place. And the stairs had to be moved. My landlords, being the very sweet and well-meaning people they are, agreed to have the stairs moved, while still warning the construction crew to "never marry an American girl." Touche.
My closet, stranded in the middle of the room

         As you can imagine, the stairs were not changed the next day. Nor the next. And then it was shabbat, so not then either. On Sunday, a regular working day here, I raced from my end- of- ulpan test to supervise the construction of these infernal stairs. I got to the place and the landlords informed me that the builders weren't coming, as one was sick. I inquired "hospital sick?" and he wasn't. I told the landlords "These builders are making a fool of us. I need to move in and they are completely unprofessional. I'm not telling you to fire them, but I would call them and say I'll never use their services again. You guys are way too nice." Now, reader, you may think I'm being too tough in this situation, but I have the dual honor of being a New Yorker and now an Israeli. And my New York-Israeli mentality does not allow for such shenanigans. And you know what? It really lit a fire under my landlord. An hour later he called me and said he convinced the builder to come at 3 that afternoon! And by 3, obviously the builder came at 4. But he came! And built me stairs! In the exact location we discussed! And they are beautiful! 

              And so, dear reader, I now live in the loft of my dreams, with sturdy stairs and a closet in a closet-sized hole in the wall. All is right in the world and I invite any and all of you to come see the stairs for yourselves, should you ever find yourself in downtown Jerusalem!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

House Hunters: Jerusalem

             It's been ages! So much has happened, since I last blogged. So much, in fact, that I am going to make this a 2 (or 3, depending on how long-winded I get) part series entitled: Where is She Now? The Jordana Brown Story. Today's entry is about my search for a place to live after leaving the comfortable, but temporary, environs of Ulpan Etzion.
            Regardless of my opinions of my accommodations in ulpan (okay facilities, lackluster food options, undesirable location) it was a great home for my initial five months after making aliyah. It was always there when I needed it, with my tiny bed and my unreliable 78 bus line, and I will miss it. About a month before the ulpan ended, a frenzy began wherein all ulpan students suddenly realized we needed a place to move! Permanent locations were discussed, many hoping to move to the Tel Aviv area (why?!) with most choosing to stay in the Jerusalem area. Roommates were buddying up, and appointments to see rooms and apartments were being made. I knew for myself I had several requirements; I wanted to live near the center of town and I wanted to live alone. While most single Orthodox Jews my age choose to live in the German Colony/Katamon area (there's even a whole Israeli television show about single life there, called "Srugim") I knew that it wasn't the place for me. Don't get me wrong, I have friends there and hope to spend a lot of wonderful shabbat meals in the area, but for me, I wanted a more central location. I decided to look in the Nachlaot, Rehavia and center of town areas exclusively. Then there was the whole "living alone" situation. This came about because I have never done it and always wanted to. I am a social person (to put it mildly), but I love the idea of having my own space to come home to, after being surrounded by people all day. I love the idea of hosting a million friends and family members from Israel and abroad, being a landing pad for anyone who needs a place to crash. I love the idea of hosting meals and parties, without checking to see if it's okay with my roommates. And I really love the idea of decorating my own place! But this independence comes with a price- namely, taking care of every single bill and the entire rent on my own for a whole year! That's really daunting for a chick who hasn't had a full-time job in six months! (More to come on job shenanigans in a future post!) But I saved up in New York City (throwback to being a rich American!) and knew that I had to at least try to make this "living alone" thing happen.

              The first area I searched was the two-headed dragon known as Facebook groups and Janglo. There are several Facebook groups dedicated to people looking for apartments or roommates in Jerusalem (and everywhere else in Israel), as well as Janglo, a website for English-speaking Jerusalemites looking for basically anything. Why is this a two-headed dragon, you might wonder. Because if I went to these sites looking for English-speaking apartment options so did every other English speaker in Jerusalem! We are a simple bunch, we Anglos. We want things in English, we want to read and understand, and we want to communicate with brokers and renters who speak our common language. But this leads to a highly competitive real estate market, where an apartment posted in Nachlaot lasts maybe a half hour before it's rented! And it got frustrating after a while. One funny story: The Facebook ad read: "Adorable apartment in Rehavia, cheap rent, 6 months with option for longer, one bedroom with loft." There were some accompanying pictures of a leafy entryway and the price was right, so I set up a time to see the place. When I got there, it was a) not in Rehavia (it was really in Katamon) b) the renter had disappeared from mobile communication and c) impossible to locate the entrance in the labyrinth of this building. Finally, the renter showed me the place. It was actually too narrow to even stand side by side in the "kitchen", her bed was on a loft over the bathroom, and breathing was getting difficult in such a confined space. Then, she showed me a larger bedroom, certainly suitable for habitation. I asked her why she didn't live there! She responded that her roommate lived in that room! Roommate?! Where was that in the ad? And is this roommate staying? I told her I wasn't interested and frankly, she was being ripped off. She told me she had plenty of interest from her Facebook ad, so she wasn't worried. I screamed in my head "Maybe that's because your entire ad is a misleading lie?!" but with my mouth told her that was great and wished her luck.
                    After that debacle, a Israeli friend suggested trying "Yad2" which is where Israelis tend to rent their places. This opened up a whole new world of possibility- endless apartments for rent in every price range, with pictures and descriptions! Unfortunately, there was no English translation on the site, but it gave me ample opportunity to work on my Hebrew reading skills. The first place I found was a loft space in the center of town. It was a cool studio with a ladder leading up to the "gallery." I hadn't really thought about living in the center, but the place was kind of great and the price wasn't terrible, so I said I'd be in touch and kept looking.
                   When you have parameters such as mine, you go see anything that looks right. It's kinda like dating, though. On paper, it checks all the boxes, but in reality it is just not for you. Like the apartment I went to see near the shuk which was literally in a bomb shelter. The renter was explaining how much room I had and how cool the layout was and all I'm thinking is "G-d forbid there's another war and I am hosting the whole building in my bomb shelter living room!" So, needless to say, that place was a no- go. Another place I saw had neighbor children climbing all over the entrance. Another was a glorified dorm room. Yet another was basically situated on a highway. To top it off, the neighborhood where I wanted to live most, Nachlaot, was really pricing me out. It was as if all the hippies (a large demographic of the area) were contriving to keep me out!  It was all becoming very demoralizing and my time in ulpan was running out. 
                  I kept coming back to the loft apartment I saw in town. I showed it to my cousins, some friends and my visiting aunt and uncle, who all saw the potential I did. I decided to move to the center of town and live in a loft! Easy- peasy right? Wrong! Coming up on Part 2 (because this post is getting super- long): The Saga of my Apartment. There are laughs, there are tears, and as always, the end is happy! Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Deep Breaths

              Let's take a trip back to the heady days of early summer. I had just made aliyah two weeks prior, and I was floating on a cloud of fresh Zionism, blessedly uncomplicated bureaucracy and warm Jerusalem breezes. I had just started ulpan, and sub-par accommodations and undesirable food notwithstanding, life seemed simple and fun. I was at the beginning of five months of Hebrew lessons, dorm living and getting myself situated here in Israel. I initially signed up to do this specific ulpan to give myself a "soft landing." My housing, food, social and scheduling situations would be taken care of until mid-December. I was golden.
            Except now it's December! Five long months have passed in the blink of and eye, and in less than two weeks, my adult life in Israel will truly begin. Sure, I had lots of stuff to take care of these past 5 months. But in short order, I find myself scrambling to find: an apartment, a job, furniture, a driver's license, a social circle, and all the details each of these involve. Let's break them down, shall we?
            On December 15, I will be homeless. I will leave the (not terrible) confines of my dorm room and have to live in a place of my own. Luckily, after much searching (blog post forthcoming), I have found a place to hang my hat, and I think I love it. Problem is, it is currently an empty box. A cute and well-located box, but empty nonetheless. It needs furniture, and furniture costs money. Which I don't really have, because I haven't worked since June (!!!) This results in a battle of wills deep within. On the one side, we have the newly thrifty Jordana, trying to get the best deal and buy the bare minimum of household essentials. On the other, prettier, side, we have the Jordana who loves to decorate and beautify, and wants vases, sconces and chandeliers! I am trying to marry the two sides and decorate my apartment efficiently and adorably. This is much more difficult when the closest Target is 5,000 miles away.
Check out this piece of second-hand beauty!
          You may remember (because I wrote it last paragraph) that I haven't worked since June. After the school year ended, I said goodbye to speech therapy. While it had it's good parts (the pay, the hours), it never fulfilled me and I never planned on pursuing it here in Israel. I have a myriad reasons, but the end result is, I need to find a job in a field that I have I have no official employment history! Now, if I wanted to sell Forex or Binary options (whatever the heck those are), I would be good-to-go here in Anglo- Israel. But unfortunately, I am hoping to enter the very lucrative field of Jewish/Israeli organizations, or possibly the even more lucrative field of full-time writing! While I am aware that neither of those fields pay a whole lot, I'm newly on this whole "enjoy what you do" kick, and hoping that my new life in Israel affords me the ability to truly love what I do! My passions have always been Judaism, Israel, reading and writing (not necessarily in that order) and I hope to make an impact in this country while at the same time utilizing talents that I haven't really been utilizing for the past bunch of years. You would think my passion, strong command of language and sparkling smile would have opened all the doors for me, right? Not so! After revamping my resume (which screamed : SPEECH THERAPIST) and sending it out to various contacts, I am still no closer to impacting Jewish or Israeli society than I was 5 months ago. But I am motivated and confident that it will happen soon (do you know anyone, reader?)
           Another source of stress is converting my license from American to Israeli. Unfortunately, this does not involve learning to honk louder and curse in Hebrew. It is a truly involved process which takes copious amounts of time, energy, and money! I could write a whole blog post on just this topic, but in a nutshell: First you take an eye test (money) where they give you a green paper, which you need to have signed after a doctor's check-up (money). Then you take these papers and your license to the Jerusalem DMV (money) where they hassle you for 3 hours because your NYS license was issued after your aliya and how can this be? Then they reject your valid explanation and make you contact the DMV in Jamaica, Queens in order to sort it all out. Then you need to schedule at least one driving lesson (although the instructor will recommend two- money) and then soon after you will take your test (lots of money) possibly more than once, if the fates are not on your side (even more money!) Then, you can pick up your temporary license (money) before being sent your permanent one (dare I say And that is how you convert an American license. And why must you do this now, when you have your whole life in Israel to drive and no access to a car in the foreseeable future? Because the state of Israel gives you a one- year grace period, and after that time you must begin the entire process as an Israeli, with thirty hours of lessons and a written test! No thanks, man!
Step 3 of 45

           My last source of angst in the whole "finding a social circle" issue once I leave ulpan. Much as I like to gripe about this place, there is comfort in knowing that there is always someone downstairs to talk to, always a group to go out with at night, and always a birthday to celebrate. Once we leave the confines of ulpan, we will be scattered to the wind, with many of my favorite people here making the big move to Tel Aviv. I know it's not that far geographically, but logistically, it's a trek. Then there is that dual dilemma of my living alone and also choosing to not live in Katamon. I want to live alone precisely because I like to be with people. Sounds weird? What I mean is, I want to be able to host out- of- town friends, shabbat dinners and small gatherings without worrying about bothering a roommate. I want to be able to be a crash pad for friends and relatives visiting the center of town. Living alone affords me all this, but it also threatens to isolate me. So does living in the center of town. Most young, Orthodox singles in Jerusalem live in the "Katamon" area, which is actually several connected neighborhoods about a twenty minute walk from town. The vast majority of ulpan-ers are choosing to live here, many with other people from ulpan. They are basically transporting a piece of the "ulpan bubble" to their post-ulpan lives. So they will very likely be socializing together and I will very likely need to work harder to maintain connections. This, too, is a stress, even for an uber-social person like myself. 
             So now that I've outlined what I'm stressing about, I actually feel much better. Sometimes it help to talk (type) it out, put it all out there, and tackle it one step at a time. I have an apartment and some stuff with which to fill it. I will find some job at some point I'm sure (maybe Cofix is hiring!) and I will get a license after x number of tries, please G-d. And I already have some great friends, so worse comes to worst, I will just stick with them if I never become the toast of Katamon society. I'll be just fine, don't worry. And while you're at it, tell my mom not to worry either!