Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Our Man in Tel-Aviv

The Joys of Tenancy

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, explains the real day-to-day there. As James Thurber once said - "Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility."

When I signed the lease for my apartment last April, in the relative safety of a lawyer's office, surrounded by centuries of wisdom in the form of legal binders and respectable books of law, little did I know that I would have to face all the ordeals related to being a tenant in the land of milk and honey.

Ten months after I promised and swore that I would behave as a good and responsible man and pay three thousand US dollars per month for the privilege of living one hundred yards west of Carmel Market and eighty yards east of the Tel Aviv beach - in a walking distance from the fine sand and the beach restaurant owned by the rude landlord (see previous columns, Beach Bumming at Chinky's and Moving South, Changing Culture) - it appears that the milk got a bit sour, and the honey sticks now to all the parts of my body.

Three thousand dollars!  What could I buy with this rent money?  A trip to Mauritius?  Shares in a soft drink company?  A couple of nights with an Ethiopian call-girl (*)? A new laptop computer? A pair of designer glasses?  What else?

In fact I bought … trouble.

It all started when I decided that the upper terrace needed to be cleaned at a price agreed over by telephone with a dubious cleaning company.  A man and his son came up to clean. Short pants, rubber boots and a request for additional payment triggered my curiosity as to the differences between the local traditions and customs and those of the United States or even of Europe.

Then the electric meter started to keep fusing now and then, depriving us of air conditioning in the midst of summer. The landlady wanted to make sure I would not worry and had promised to send me professional workers to fix the issue. The professional workers came up soon - three different professional workers that is. All experts in electricity! The first one said that the electric system was unsafe and he could not fix it short of rewiring all of the apartment. The second asked me to provide him with a ladder and a screwdriver as he had none, as for the third, he dared asking me to hold cables and run an on/off test while he was on the roof trying to locate the possible cause of my predicament.  None of this worked out and I had to clean the footmarks generously left all over the apartment by the experts.

The collateral damages came in the form of a pool of water oozing from my deep freezer - and a huge loss of frozen meat bought the previous day at Zalman, the respected Yafo butcher catering to the foreign community, including the kitchens of the French Ambassador in Tel Aviv. The same evening, all the cats of Carmel Market blessed my name and that of the electrical experts while indulging in an exceptional meal. Eventually, after several attempts to fix the problem, the electrical system being operative again, I could foresee a reasonably happy future… then the hot water stopped being hot and I started getting angry. Another expert came after we spent twenty-four without electricity (as a short circuit in the system tripped the fuse anytime one of us would attempt to wash with water above 15 c) - and asked me to lay down flat on my stomach, under the hot water tank, in the dust and mouse excrement, so that I would hold my own flashlight, so that he could change the coil of the heater. He opened the valve to empty the contents and I got wet - very wet.

Then came the rainy season… and in Israel, when it rains, it pours.

There is truth in the biblical stories. I can bear witness to that, having seen myself, not long ago, several objects of various shape and colors freely flowing westward from Carmel Market in the direction of the sea, as tons of water carrying all kinds of debris attacked the streets and sidewalks of my neighborhood. I can also vouch that some cats drowned, not even talking about the rats plaguing the area (no, I am going too far here… let's be serious).

There is nothing I like more than being in bed in the midst of winter, with rain fiercely knocking on the roof, and the windows.  I enjoy the feeling of security and safety - and being dry when everything else is wet.

Dry? The water marks appeared on the ceiling of the staircase and then plaster started falling off.  As I got up to get to the bathroom, I entered a room which could have been used as a roman bath (Romans were here a few years ago, as you recall) - and there is nothing I hate more than dragging my wet feet across the apartment to call the landlady, while receiving derogatory comments from my better half.

I did so.

The "Balaboosteh" (**) wanted me to feel better and safe and promised that she would immediately attend to my needs and have an expert fix the leaks.

The professionals came. They wanted to borrow one of my chairs as they had no ladder. It was on a day when school was off.  The so-called expert in leaks came of with his mistress, his mother in law, and a young girl (possibly the daughter that he conceived with his mistress? or his wife? I will never know) who started looking in my different closets, possibly to check my lifestyle and sexual habits. She could not find anything incriminating as I had already stashed away all of the evidence.

They knew where the leaks came from and would fix it right away. So did they did, by smearing, here and there, a sort of silicon paste which was supposed to seal the openings and the gaps left over by the construction workers.

The rain stopped and the men went away satisfied with their work. A couple days after their visit, the skies opened up and water started trickling into the bathroom from an electrical outlet connecting with outside. I then realized that my insurance coverage might not include electrocution and called Thomas Z, my insurance agent.

He recommended that I would take my shower standing up on a wooden chair. I told him that my chairs were made of metal and that his solution was not fully satisfying.

So I called the landlady again and she promised that it would be fixed very soon - the rainy season will end up very shortly. I promised not to mention anything to the next owner or tenants - and I needed to attend to more urgent matters as I had just found out  that our fives bicycles were stolen, at night, during shabbath! 

The bike's parking room was locked… The "ganavim" (***)  came through the window after silently dismantling the windowpanes, cutting the chains, and probably taking their time to have a beer while all of the tenants in the building were fast asleep after a hard week of work.

The building manager, alerted the next day, could do nothing but offer his compassion. So did the cops when I reported the theft… so did Thomas Z, my insurance agent, who had suggested that every day I should bring the bicycles up in the apartment on the seventh floor. This would act as a deterrent - and would certainly reduce my living space. Would it bring a smile on my wife's face? I doubt it. I called the landlady to notify her and ask for her support in doing "something," whatever, anything, to stop this irritating trend.

She offered her support and told me that experts in theft would come and try to help - but she needed a police report. So I returned to the Yaffo police station to be told by the police officer that everyone in Tel Aviv lived pretty well with their bicycles being stolen, and that if I wanted to buy a cheap one, I should go around 6:00 am near the flea market. With a bit of luck, I could buy my own bicycles back at a far cheaper price  that I paid when I bought them last month.

When I signed my lease last April, the landlady promised that she would install a handrail in the staircase connecting the two floors of the duplex in order to prevent accidents. Last week I got a call from a man. His name was Charlie. I asked him when the handrail would be installed. He asked me to count the steps and told me that he would get back to me shortly with a price offer.

Charlie called this morning. He mentioned that he would send an expert in staircases and handrails. I better get ready with my own toolbox. But I promise that I will not do any work on Shabbes. I have other pressing issues and an appointment with the shrink at the Herzlyia Medical Center. They have a survival crash course for foreign tenants living in South Tel-Aviv!



(*) Ethiopian women are amongst the most beautiful women on earth. It is said that the Queen of Sheba was Ethiopian. It appears that Judaism got into Ethiopia from this source. There is a large Ethiopian community in Israel - and a lot of beautiful Ethiopian women, including some who are exchanging sexual favors in return for dollars, euros or Swiss francs.

(**) Balaboosteh. The female equivalent of Balabeit (the owner, the landlord , the boss of the house).  It is interesting to know that in Hebrew, the word Baal means at the same time "owner" and "husband." A Husband "owns" his wife.

(***) Ganavim. Plural of Ganav - thief . This particular fringe of the population steals bicycles during the night and is particularly active during Shabbath as the entire city is resting in accordance with the instructions from "ha Shem" ( The Name ) = God.


Copyright © 2007 - Sylvain Ubersfeld

[Our Man in Tel-Aviv]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik