With Jerusalem Reunification Day this week, my mind went back to our arrival here in 1983, with five children under the age of eight, no job prospects but a strong knowledge that this is where we wanted to be.
We initially lived in a rented apartment but building was going on all around us and we knew that we were going to have to think seriously about buying a home, if we wanted to make use of our immigrants’ privileges and mortgage.
We checked out the names of builders and went to their offices downtown.
The clerk in the office looked us up and down. “ I’ve got just the place for you” he said.He went on to describe a wonderful two storey house with a small garden in a religious section of our neighborhood.
The price was possible , the size and garden sounded a dream .We told the agent we’d go and look over the house and let him know.
“ Don’t wait too long” he warned. “ I can sell it any time. It’s a real bargain”.
We foolishly assumed that was just a sales ploy.
At the building site we looked around the house. It was a dream. Far bigger than we’d ever imagined we could afford . It was too good a chance to miss.
Next morning we were back at the builder’s office.
“We’ll take it.”
“Too late” he said. “ I warned you I could sell it just like that” and he snapped his fingers.
We turned to go, very disappointed , especially as I’d spent the night dreaming about bringing up our family with some real space and a garden.
“Would you like to live in a mixed area?” he called as we were about to leave.”I’ve got exactly the same house, a few minutes along the road where there are religious and non-religious people living .”
We shot back to the chairs in front of his desk .
“ Yes sure. Let’s go and look at it “ my husband said.
I turned around and looked at the ever growing number of people waiting behind us in the office.
“No” I said. “We daren’t risk it . Any one of these people here will buy it if we leave now. You saw what happened yesterday”.
“We can’t buy a house we haven’t seen” my husband insisted.
“But he said it’s just like the other one. We saw that one and loved it, so what’s the problem?” I asked.
“Well. Do you want it or don’t you” The clerk asked.
“Yes” I said, as my husband gave me a look that said ‘ this is your idea remember’.
“Oh , there is one other thing” the clerk continued.
We waited for the bombshell that would make us change our mind.
“It has a basement downstairs. It’s on three floors not two. But don’t worry it’s got a window and a proper floor and the central heating is connected down there as well”
I was still waiting for the ‘bad’ news.
Oh and another thing. You’re really lucky, with the current inflation rate you’ll actually be paying a lot less now than the apartment cost at the beginning of the month.”
We were, as they say, gobsmacked!
We wanted to sign immediately, before we lost it . But there was still the small issue of money. We knew we could get a mortgage from the Ministry of Absorption but we needed some money now for a deposit.
Twenty five years ago there were no cell-phones and we were too scared of losing the apartment if we left the office and went to the bank ourselves. So we asked the agent to let us call the bank from his desk-phone. We told them that we needed to remove most of our foreign currency from its investment account. We knew that we would be losing all the interest by breaking into the account but there was nothing we could do about it – we needed it right then.
But I wasn’t prepared for the bank’s reply.
“ As you are using the money to buy a house,” the bank-clerk said, “You’ll be pleased to know that the mitzvah ( commandment) of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael ( settling the Land of Israel) overrides all other banking regulations. You won’t lose any interest.”
This was too much for me and I could feel the tears pricking my eyes. In the space of one short hour we had the privilege of buying a bigger apartment than we had ever dared to think of, in the city of our prayers and dreams. We were paying a bargain price and the bank was even telling me that the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel overrides banking regulations.
Buying a home in Jerusalem sure was different from buying a house in London.
And, thank G’d, living in Jerusalem is very different from living anywhere else in the world……. but that’s for another post.