So I Found an Apartment in Israel

Less than 72 hours after arriving in Israel last Tuesday night, I moved into what will be my apartment for the duration of my stay. Previously in Israel, I lived in the northern town of Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, for seven months in my own place, then for nine weeks with a friend. This little town really suits me, so it is here that I returned immediately after crossing the border from Egypt.

However, my friend Moshe with whom I’m spending my first few nights had another idea. There’s an apartment in Migdal he’s arranged for me to rent. Migdal is a village about ten kilometers north of Tiberias where I’ve long said I would love to live, as it a beautiful spot with lovely small homes on a hill of farmland. However, on our drive out there, I become awakened to reality. To live in Migdal, one really must have a car. Which I don’t.

The apartment is bright and clean, a one bedroom with Jacuzzi tub, dark wood furniture and a balcony overlooking horses and orchards. And after only an hour and a half of yelling on the phone, Moshe is able to get the internet working. But then we look at each other and admit – this apartment is not for me. It’s just too remote and, without transport, I would be trapped.

So, Where to Live?

I’d wrangled the perfect apartment for myself when I landed in Israel in March of 2011, with helpful connections and an English speaking real estate agent. I call my former agent and learn that my old apartment now has been sold. “If I have something else, I call you.” Which he does not. So I turn to Yosi, another friend.

And he’s got it. A basic but comfortable one bedroom on the 7th floor of his building, for only 1,500 Shekels per months, including high-speed internet. It’s in the same neighborhood as my former apartment, with easy access to my old friends and, importantly, the same mountain on which I used to spend hours a day hiking. This place is simply perfect.

Yosi interprets for me and Eli the manager, a very religious man in black pants, white shirt and a black kippa, and I learn that tomorrow, Friday, the apartment, recently vacated by soldiers, will be cleaned. Eli draws up a contract for me to move in on Sunday, and I sign it.

Toda Raba, thank you, I tell Eli at the end of our meeting, extending my hand across the table for him to shake. He raises his hands slightly in the hair, smiles and shakes his head no. He is not going to shake my hand. Why? Religious Jews in Israel are forbidden from touching women at any time, because three out of the four weeks of the month we are “unclean” and they never know which week it is.

So I’ll be moving in on Sunday. I think. Until 10:00 Thursday night, when I’m sleeping and Moshe returns from English class, awakening me by beating on the front door to be let in. We sit at the kitchen table and he opens a bottle of wine. “Tomorrow a woman comes,” he announces. Oh, no. Not one more word does he have to speak, and I know Moshe is going to want me out. “We’re going to have sex,” he confirms. “Maybe you can spend two nights in Migdal?” His honesty and forthrightness is not surprising. Israelis are by far more open about sex than people in the U.S., or probably anywhere in the world.

No, I don’t want to be stranded in Migdal, I tell him. I’ll see if I can move into the Tiberias apartment tomorrow.

I call Yosi to ask him to contact Eli to see if I can move in two days early. Yosi calls back first thing Friday morning and says, “Be here at 11:00 with your money and passport.”

Passport, no problem. I must get money. Moshe drives me into town to the ATM machine, which spits out 1,200 Shekels to supplement what I’ve already got, enough to pay the first month’s rent. It is at this point that, due to lack of previous communication, I realize Moshe wants to run errands.

There is no time for this. At sundown Shabbat will begin, the weekly Jewish holy day on which all work 100% ceases. If I am late to my 11:00 appointment with religious Eli, there is a good possibility I won’t be able to make an appointment for later that day. Saturday is out of the question, as Israel is completely closed for business on that day. Moshe’s errands might eradicate my chance of moving into the apartment until Sunday.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry!” I say unto deaf ears, as Moshe spends 10 minutes circling the supermarket parking lot looking for a free spot. Finally, we see a woman loading groceries into her car and stop behind her, waiting. After she spends two minutes inching out of the space, another car from the right begins to pull in. We have lost the spot, I am convinced. Moshe honks at the space thief. I fully expect a mini war to erupt, with screaming and fighting which will result in dented cars. To my surprise, the man backs out of the spot, in a nice tone with a smile shouting something in Hebrew out the window at Moshe, who in turn smilingly shouts something in indecipherable Hebrew back.

Supermarkets in Tiberias on the eve of Shabbat are gridlocked affairs, so densely packed with people and carriages there is hardly room for one more, its cash registers so backed up with customers it reminds me of Christmas Eve shopping in the U.S.

“This is a disaster,” Moshe admits after several minutes of fruitless weaving through the tangles, and heads for the door. Thank God, he finally realizes the grocery store would take at least an hour and a half to navigate. A few more quick errands later, and we arrive back at his apartment, in time for me to quickly pack and for the two of us to gather the bedding and kitchenware from his home that my apartment-to-be lacks, and rush over to the management office. At ten till 11:00 we arrive, in plenty of time for me to meet with Eli and Yosi and plenty of time for Moshe to get back home to prepare for his evening sex.

“We need to change the date of the contract,” I point out to Yosi helpfully. “Do you want to pay 100 Shekels?” he asks gruffly. Oh. I hadn’t realized that a contract change would mean a fee. Yosi, fortunately did, and has already ironed this out with Eli for me.

I am now free to move in, with no late-change fee. A quick exchange of money, copying of my passport, and I have a new apartment in Israel.

View of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights

It may have a building in front of it, but I have a view of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights!

4 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Great post, Sabina, loved all the details. I want to have the view the apartment in Migdal has! However, I would have chosen a more accessible place too. I hear one can rent a bigger apartment (even heard of 3 rooms) for 1500 shekels / month in Haifa and/or Nazareth, yet it might only be in year-long contracts and I don’t know what view these apartments have. Of course, what matters is that you had this adventure that resulted in an apartment with a gorgeous view, as well as your friends and your mountain nearby :) And there are so many places you can reach now, because you chose somewhere with better public transportation.
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..My Favorite Sights in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina (Besides the Falls)My Profile

  2. Sabina says:

    Thanks, Ayelet! Yes, this apartment has the perfect location, which was important to me. It is directly on local and national bus lines and has shops and restaurants just a two-minute walk away. It’s right in the same neighborhood as my previous apartment, so it’s ideal.

  3. Joe Karns says:

    I definately can relate to you about needing a car, depending on the city. My girlfriend and I lived together in the big city and it would have actually been more trouble that not to have a car (parking hassles, tickets, paying for parking, etc). However, when we moved to the suburbs, we found out the hard way how difficult it was to not have a car. We tried getting by with a clunker for the last year but it’s just about dead so we’ll probably be getting a (real) new car soon. …But I’m rambling now. I commend you for taking the leap and moving; overcoming obstacles as they come up.

    All The Best,

  4. Sabina says:

    Hi, Joe – like your situation, a car both is and is not necessary in northern Israel. As long as you live close to a bus stop, you can travel all over the country, although there are still limitations on where you can go because buses don’t go absolutely everywhere. In this case the first location I looked at was still just too remote, with no shops within walking distance and quite a long walk from a bus stop. Where I am now is just the ideal location.

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