Sunday, September 30, 2007

Balagan (Mess)

Yeah, the world is in a big balagan now. I decided to get out of the Pisgah, and Dena and Moish of Modiin offered me a place to crash in their Little House of Breslov, so I headed out west. They even let me set up a little office in their daughter Rivka's room, where I was able to finally tackle some serious work and get caught up on my projects.

Still no news, or at least good news, on the apartment search. I showed up at Lalouche's office at 10 AM, as he instructed me to, when he was to help me look for apartments, but he never showed. I called him at 10:15, "I'll be there in 15 minutes." I called him at 11:00, "I'm not coming, but my brother David is." At 11:05 his brother David called, "I'm not coming." I tried to get upset, to yell at the guy, but I just couldn't muster the energy. I have only been sleeping two to three hours per night thanks to jet lag, so just staying awake during the day requires all my effort.

Lallouche is now offering to help me make a list of available apartments, but he's demanding money if he arranges the meetings with the various landlords to see the apartments, something he had offered to do for free last week. At this point, I'm just saying to hell with the guy. I don't want any help from him. It will make it that much easier for me to sue him, which cousin Rafi says I can still do in spite of the cancellation of the contract. "It's simple, you just go to small claims court and fill out a form." Figure I've got nothing to lose, maybe he would be less inclined to take advantage of new immigrants in the future, and it would be fun just to imagine the look on his face when he gets a summons from this little push-over.

But the first priority is still to get a roof over my head. Unfortunately, it looks as if the housing market is pretty much dead for Sukkot. Very, very few apartments are showing up on the rental sites. For the few that do, nobody is really answering the phone now anyway. I've also tried (Israel apartment rental site) and have been looking into a roommate. The problem for me to move in as a roommate in an apartment that has already been rented is that it would likely already have a fridge and washing machine, and I wouldn't know what to do with mine.

Meanwhile, everyone else seems to be in the same situation. Moish started his new job at IDT, an international call center in Jerusalem, before I left for America. It's a great job for new immigrants from the states since most of the work involves telemarketing to the U.S., so there is no Hebrew requirement and new olim can begin work right away. The down side is that he has to work the night shift (12AM-7AM) to match up with American hours. He's been doing it three weeks and he's still a zombie. Funny, all I want to do during the day is sleep, and all I want to do at night is stay up, and he's on the opposite schedule. Wish we could swap jet lags.

Yigal called me and said that if we room together he is only planning on living with me for three months before moving out. Well, that seriously messes up my financial planning. I had originally rented the place in San Simon for $510, an amount I can afford on my own, with the thought of living there alone, and I had just happened to find a particularly good deal, and later thought of inviting Yigal. But most 2-BR apartments are going for $650-$700, so I don't know if I could swing that on my own for 9 months. I let him know that I would do everything I could to help him, and if I found another great deal I would like to help him, but that he was now on his own as far as I'm concerned. He was understanding, but exhausted (he's working swing shifts too.)

Meanwhile, my other friend, M., who is now engaged, is also searching for an affordable 2-BR place, and can't find diddley either. And that's not to mention the stress of finding a wedding hall, planning the whole affair, and, oh yeah, preparing to move in with someone for the rest of your life.

Friend #4, A., is back in the states, helping his parents move for the next month, and as far as I know doesn't have a place lined up here when he gets back.

Upheaval is unpleasant, but at least I have company.

Unlike basically all other Jews, Chabad chassidim do not sleep in the Sukkah. While I would not consider myself a Chabad chassid (I've got no beard and hat,) I still like to default to Chabad minhag (custom) when in doubt, so I haven't been sleeping in the Sukkah. Of course, Chabad also doesn't eat or drink anything, even so much as a glass of water, outside the sukkah, and I haven't been so strict on that this year.

So, here at Moish's house, I was invited to sleep out in his sukkah, and decided to take him up on it. I figure it's a sort of total bittul (self-nullification,) like saying, "Yeah, I get it Hashem, I'm supposed to be homeless now." Got a full 5-1/2 hours, the best sleep I've had all week. Now I've just got to try not to let the stress of homelessness interfere with the joy of Sukkot.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Back to Square One

I went into Lalouche the erstwhile would-be landlords' office first thing on Friday to see the properties he had discussed. With two hours of sleep thanks to jetlag and propped up with an overdose of caffeine, I was raring to go. First, though, we pulled out the old contract, he returned the pile of checks I had given him, and we cancelled the rental agreement. Then, when I was ready to see the apartments he had discussed, he rolled his spider chair behind his desk and started clicking away on his computer. I peeked over his shoulder and saw that he was doing a web search.
"Where do you want to live?"
"You mean, the properties don't belong to you?"
"No. But we can find things all over the place."
Oh, no. When he had said, "I have a place for you on Derech Beit Lechem," that pretty clearly meant, to me at least, that he owned the place. Now he's just doing a search using the realtors' software, which is similar to my own subscription to Maagar Meda (Internet search engine for rental properties in Jerualem.) I.e., the properties we're looking at belong to other people, so I've got no guilt-leverage on the guy for having bumped me out of my apartment that I could use to negotiate a lower price, or at least to get first dibs on a place. So we looked up a few places and tried calling, but nobody was home. It was already too close to Shabbat. So I arranged to come back at 1oAM on Monday to continue the search then, when people would be available.
I left his office and called Yigal.
"You did WHAT!?"
"I cancelled the rental agreement."
A soft sigh. "You should know for next time, when a landlord in Israel violates a rental agreement, he owes you one month's rent."
D'oh! No wonder he was in such a hurry to cancel that contract. So now I've really lost my leverage. I was just furious with myself. Now I'm really back to square one, where I was a month and a half ago when I first started searching.

I drove in circles and eventually parked at the yeshivah in Kiryat Mosheh and started walking. The streets were blocked off and the walls plastered with announcements of the death of Rabbi Avraham Shapira, Z"L, former chief rabbi of Israel and one of the two major spiritual leaders of the National Religious movement. I followed in the wake of the funeral procession. Walked and walked and walked for an hour and a half. Walked through the Arab section of the old city, where Arab merchants selling Judaica work next door to Arab merchants peddling Hamas and Hizbullah propaganda videos. "Brother! Brother! Do you want to buy a shofar!" Laughed out loud at that one.
I got to the Western Wall, and had been thinking all along that I was going to have to refrain myself from punching the thing, God forbid, I was so upset, but by the time I got there I had walked off the anger. Seeing all the holy people streaming into the plaza, carrying their lulavs and etrogs, made my day. I joined a minyan for Minchah and let it all out.
Really, it's not so bad. It's not like I was actually going to sue Lallouche for 0ne month's rent, a lousy $510. Just hiring a lawyer would cost twice that. And if I had threatened to, he certainly wouldn't be helping me search using his realtor's subscription service. He did volunteer to make all the phonecalls and have his helper brother bring me out to see the places himself, which would save me a load of work. And maybe he's got something available on his subscription that I don't have on mine.
One other thing I'm realizing: I am losing over $150 for every day that I'm not working. There are six working days a week. The place I was supposed to rent was $510 per month for a fourth-floor, stairs-only, medium quality apartment. Lallouche mentioned that there was another place available across the street on the ground floor, much bigger, better quality, for $650. Now, at $150 per day, it would really only take me 12 working days (corresponding to 12 months of rent,) or two weeks, of not working to lose an equivalent amount of money to a year in a $650 high-quality apartment versus a $510 low-quality apartment. It may be more worthwhile to grab something at market value than to endlessly hunt for a good deal. Something to think about while vacillating.
Meanwhile, Moish and Dina in Modiin called me up and said I could use their apartment to work while I'm looking, and I could even set up my computer there, which is very important since the software I need to do my work is all on my personal computer. They have only one kid, while Rafi and Galila, with whom I'm staying now, have four, so I could theoretically get 75% more work done. Hopefully I can get out there tomorrow after apartment hunting and get through some of my projects.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Unintended Consequences

I had it all planned out like clockwork. The lease I signed had me entering the new apartment on September 30th (Sunday.) The lease on my storage place ends on September 30th. The movers will be at the warehouse at 8 AM on the morning of September 30th to bring my stuff to my new apartment. I already transferred my address on my phone bills over to the new address.

Apparently the family living in the apartment had other plans. They were supposed to move out on September 15th, giving the landlord enough time to paint the place and fix it up. On Tuesday night, only 12 hours after my 3 AM landing at Ben Gurion Airport, Lalouche, my new Landlord calls me, "Ephraim, I know we have an arrangement, but the family is still there, and they have nowhere to go. I'm asking you to have rachmanut (compassion) and give them an extra seven days, until October 8th. If they're not out by then, then I will get them out, no question. I know our contract says September 30th, and if you ask me to, I will have the apartment ready for you by then, but just think about it."
"I'll call you back tomorrow," I answer.

I thought about it. Hard. My first instinct is just to say, "yes." After all, I met the tenants, a family of not-so-well-to-do Ethiopian immigrants, when I went to see the apartment, and they seemed like nice enough people. I don't want to be responsible for kicking someone out of their home. And we just got through Yom Kippur, with the understanding that Hashem deals with us with compassion when we deal with others with compassion. I consulted friends, family, my E-ma (mom), and thought it over some more.

There are a few problems here:
1. First I called my future roommate Yigal. It turns out he is now living on a friend's couch, gradually wearing out his welcome, and told his friend that he will be moving in with me on September 30th. He will be on the street, or at least will need to find a youth hostel or something, if we don't move in on Sepember 30th.
2. If they are already two weeks late moving out, then one more week isn't going to help them. They will definitely not be able to find an apartment during this week, during which the country shuts down as we celebrate Sukkot, and we will just end up removing them on October 8th, and I'll be a week behind schedule.
3. Both my and Yigal's parnassah (ability to support ourselves) is in danger. Me, if I can't get up and running when I said I would and I look to my employer like a disorganized slob. Yigal, if he comes into his new job exhausted every day from living in a youth hostel and can't do his job. Plus the lack of income while I have no office makes it harder to pay bills.
So I decided. I think the mitzvah of my responsibility to Yigal, with whom I had made an agreement already, and to my own aliyah to Israel, outweighs the mitzvah of rachmanut. I told Lalouche the Landlord that ordinarily I would be happy to be flexible on the move in date, but I just can't in this case. But if the guy has some furniture, a television, or anything he would like me to watch over in the living room until he gets a new place, I would be happy to help him.
Well, it turns out Mr. Ethiopian immigrant guy isn't quite as naive as he pretends. While I had been considering ways to help the guy, he had called a lawyer and got an injunction preventing the landlord from evicting him. Apparently, there are some laws on the books about not being able to evict immigrant tenant families, regardless if the lease is up or not.
Lalouche, my landlord, called me in a panic. I could barely understand him through his French-acented Hebrew, "I can't get them out! I don't know what to do! I'm soooooo sorry about this!"
I told him to calm down and call me back soon. Legally speaking, since I've already given him post-dated checks for an entire year's rent, and we've already signed and sealed the lease, I could probably give him a big headache for violating his contract were I the litigious type. But I'm not.

So now I'm in violation of my rental agreement with the warehouse, and will have to extend my lease and pay some extra fees, but of course, it being the holidays, I can't get through to them. I also called the movers and cancelled the big move. Now, I'm the type who likes to carefully plan and execute every move professionally, and I can sometimes freak out when my plans get messed up, but I just decided not to this time. As the generals say, the best battle plans are perfect only until the first bullet is fired.

A few minutes later Laouche the Landlord called me back, "Look, I have some other properties that are coming up for rent in nice neighborhoods. I even have a two-bedroom on Derech Beit Lechem (a pretty sweet location) that you might want to see. Why don't you come into my office Friday, and I will take you around, and maybe we can work something out."

As an aside, I think that laws of this nature, which allow some to operate above the rules while the rest of us who follow the rules have to suffer tend to backfire. I'm certainly not comparing my own employment and financial situation, which is pretty good right now, to whatever troubles the guy living in the apartment may be going through. It's always easy to look at the individual case of the struggling tenant/worker/farmer versus the big faceless, and assumedly wealthy landlord/employer/bank. But when a society writes laws willy nilly to allow a tenant to violate his contract, to force a company to retain an employee after his job is no longer necessary, to force a bank to forgive a defaulted loan, then that means that landlords will no longer rent to Ethiopian tenants, employers will be hesitant to hire new workers, and banks will charge exorbitant interest rates on loans. In the end, haphazard laws do great damage to those they are meant to help.

This also applies to failing companies which have their debt paid out by the government, or are allowed to trash their pension plans through bankruptcy.

In retrospect, I'm glad I decided to go ahead and ask them to leave. If I hadn't I'm sure that I would be in the same situation as I am now, homeless and officeless, except it would already be a week later before I realized just how homeless I really was. At least I know. Thank God I've no shortage of family and friends to fall back on, and my cousins told me I can stay with them as long as I like. So, tomorrow I'll go in and we'll see where life takes me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hiking Through the Woods

I'm back in Israel at last. Suffering from lousy jetlag. Had a great trip though! Here are some more photos from up north:

We were a few days into vacation and people were getting antsy.

Well, except my sister, who was self-sedated with MTV.

So we decided to go for a little walk in the woods. There are all kinds of trails and nature reserves around every coorner.

Mom at the nature reserve.

The roots of an upturned tree.

Some sort of swampy pond.

The sun filters through the leaves rippling and dappling from wavelets in the scum pond.

Mushrooms slowly devouring their host tree. Delicious? Hallucenagenic? Poisonous? There's only one way to find out.

Looks like the bugs got to this tree. Still, it makes for an interesting texture.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mount Baker Trip, Part 2

And, after a long and arduous struggle up the only paved access road, we reached the famed parking lot of the Baker/Snoqualmie park.

Mount Snoqualmie, at 6,278 feet.

Sister in front of Mount Snoqualmie.

Together in front of Mount Snoqualmie

A closer-up shot of us.

Green frosted slopes cut through with steep cliffs of bare rock.

Reflecting on Mount Snoqualmie

The same photograph, but I cropped it slightly different. The foothill in the midground had a streak of bright orange, probably indicating the presence of Iron ores.

My dad, mountain man.

Mom & Sister, "Wait a minute, is that bigfoot? Oh, no, just Ephraim"

In the distance is Mount Baker towers 10,778 feet, and can be seen clearly from as far north as Vancouver, and as far south as Seattle.


Small snowmelt ponds form all over the hilltops. Baker in the background. The mountains experience a very late spring.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Baker Trip Part 1

People like to complain about the rainy weather in the Pacific Northwest caused by the moist westerly Pacific air colliding with the Cascade Mountains. Of course, thanks to that constant moisture, the area remains green and lush while Jerusalem (and California) are dry and dead. Blackberry bushes grow like weeds here.

No blackberry shortages here.

Dad gets serious about his blackberry picking. These things are great on ice cream.

Green, green everywhere. Mount Baker in the distance.

It's almost fall, last chance for a drive to see all the green.

Mom n' me, in the car.

Stopped by the visitor's center for a last-minute pit stop. They've got this massive ancient Douglass fir on display. Of course, too bad they had to kill it to get this shot.

Next stop: Mount Baker and Mount Snoqualmie

On the way to Mount Baker are the Mount Baker Vineyards.

The fam wanted to take some of the wines for a test drive.

Of course, none of the stuff is kosher, so I diddled around the vineyard.

The vineyard with Mount Snoqualmie poking over the foothills.

Up next: Pictures from the summit. Well, really, the parking lot near the summit. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Great Dalia Show, Part 2

Well, I'm still here in California. Now I'm in the great capital of the sovereign state of California, Sacramento, doing some work with my company's office here. And, of course, schmoozing with my old work friends from previous years. It always starts out with, "So aren't you afraid to live out there?!"
There's SO much to do, so much to buy, so many errands to take care of that I haven't had a spare second to myself here. I had to renew my driver's license, set up my absentee voting, get a PIN number from my bank so I can do international wire transfers, mail in my taxes, and that's just to mention a few things. When I live in Israel and look back at my life here, I sometimes wonder how I was so crazy, working 50 and 60 hour weeks month after month after month. But now I understand a little better; I HAVE to keep moving, otherwise, that underlying lonliness I feel in America comes welling up and starts biting. But when I'm back in Israel, I can relax, since I've "made it," and I'm where I want to be. One thing I do take from the experience and bring to my life in Israel, however, is the goal of keeping my mind constantly active.
So, enough grimness! Here are some lovely Dalias:

Tube Arms
White Tipped
Pink Sphere
Red Stripe
Yellow Glow

Yellow Fluffy
Red Fingers
Curley Limbs
Yellow Edges

And this one won first prize. It was by far the biggest...

Big Head Big Flower

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Great Dalia Show, Part 1

Well, I'm landed, grounded, and acclimated here in Walnut Creek. Now I'm sitting in the old office, catching up with my old friends at work, getting updates on my various projects. While visiting the family up north, we had the opportunity to head for a Dalia show.

Mom and Dad at the Dalia Show.

The variety and differences in colors were amazing. They're sort of like dogs; you could look at two and think them members of completely different species, but actually they can be cross-bred and are intermixed, despite the incredible variation.

Assorted Mix

I enjoyed the show, and it gave me an opportunity to play with my macro, portrait, and other settings on my system.

Red and Yellow

Purple and Yellow
Big Red
Soft Purple
More tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shanah Tovah

I want to wish anyone reading this page a shanah tovah, a sweet and prosperous new year! Tomorrow morning I head south for Walnut Creek, there to spend Rosh Hashannah. It's a three-day whammee with two days of Rosh Hashanah followed by Shabbat, so I'll be able to post again probably Monday of next week.

Until then, adieu!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Heading Northwest, Part II

So, after going to Seattle, I managed to make it to my family's hometown.
Sister on the couch.
Power walking through the woods by the falls with Mom. They have this kind of stuff all over the place in Washington.
The falls.

I got home started rummaging through the basement. I arrived with nothing but an empty suitcase and the clothes on my back. My plan was simple: I've got massive amounts of stuff from my old life in America buried under the house, so I figure every time I come for a visit I'll just come empty and leave with suitcases stuffed with my posessions. Thus, over the course of several years, I will gradually transfer my whole life over to Israel piece by piece.

Before I left for Israel a year ago, I had mailed my computer up to my Dad here. He had mentioned that it was pretty badly damaged in the move, but I had no idea how bad it really was. Unfortunately, UPS really did a number on it. It was a total loss:

Now, can someone please explain to me HOW THIS IS POSSIBLE? I mean, UPS is a shipping company. They certainly have a reputation for destroying things, but how is it possible to do so much damage to something accidentally? It looks liek the thing was hit by a freight train!
Well, it was an older model anyway.
So, next stop was walking along the boardwalk downtown.

Last year the city built a boardwalk passing over the bay here, with a great view of the San Juan Islands.

The boardwalk ends in a large, grassy park:

Welp, that's it for now. More photos soon(er or later.)