The Best Things in Life are Free

We knew it was going to be 18 months to 2 years before we’d be moving into the house we are building, due to permits bureaucracy and construction process in Israel being so slow.  With that in mind, and the realization that most of our American furniture was either too large for the smaller room sizes in Israel; that the furniture we had was worn out after 40 years of heavy family use; and that much of our furniture was collected over the years from yard sales and dumpster diving and the shipping costs were too high to justify moving what was essentially junk:  we knew we’d be buying our furniture in Israel.  We also didn’t know what type of apartment we’d be renting while waiting for the house to be built.  So the only furniture we ended up bringing was an antique armoire I wasn’t successful in selling beforehand;  a well-worn futon couch for last-minute guests; a circa 1955 dresser that we had been given many years ago for free; and the one piece of furniture I really wanted to bring all along:  a hand-made pine dining room table we had gotten at a farmer’s yard sale in Maine for $75.  The table was beautifully made but the farmer’s Labrador retriever puppy had chewed the corners, leaving lots of teeth marks; plus their kids hadn’t been careful about putting hot things or cups of liquid on the wood, so it was pretty scratched, stained and banged up.  I figured that only added to its charm and the price was right.  Unfortunately, however, when we stacked hundreds of pounds of boxes on the sturdy table top when we shipped our stuff to Israel, the soft pine wood could only take so much weight, and the cartons of books left deep gouges from the impressions of the boxes on the tabletop.  Our table no longer looked so charming by the time it was delivered to us in Israel.

Meanwhile I hadn’t brought my bedroom set or mattress from America.  We bought a $40 blow-up air mattress on sale from Target a week before our flight, and slipped it easily into our suitcase.  We figured we’d buy a real mattress the first week after we arrived, and the air mattress would tide us over until then. It has:  it’s so comfortable my husband is in no rush to replace it, 3 1/2 months later. We are still sleeping on it.

But one day while browsing on a Facebook group that is dedicated to the sale of second-hand furniture in the Karmiel region, I noticed a picture of a bed being given away that looked to be in good condition.  I contacted the owner who explained the bed was 17 years old but in great shape.  They were moving that week to a new house and wanted to get a new bed.  So without telling my husband, I hopped into the car and drove to Karmiel to take a look.

It was a very sturdy platform bed, and with its built-in lift mechanism, there was a huge amount of storage that one could easily access under the mattress.  It looked like the frame’s side and head rails would come apart easily enough with a screwdriver, so I told the owner we’d take it.  My one worry was the mattress support, which was a single piece of mason board.  There was no way it would fit in our car.

When I got home I told my husband that we needed to go into Karmiel the next day, because – surprise! –  we were now the owners of a real bed and that we needed to take it apart before we could bring it home (thankfully my long-suffering husband is an awfully good sport).  But I knew I’d need to get a mover for that mason board, so I posted on one of the gazillion WhatsApp groups in our village to see if anyone could recommend a mover.

I instantly got a reply:  someone knew someone who was a carpenter in Karmiel; surely he’d have a truck.  I contacted the fellow and he was a bit reluctant, since he’s a carpenter by trade and not a mover, but yes, he had a large van and for a pretty sum he was willing to deliver the mason board.  The carpenter was an oleh chadash (new immigrant to Israel) who made aliyah with his wife and kids eighteen months ago.  He was a third-generation carpenter and woodworker from North Carolina. and his specialty was custom kitchen cabinets.   Hmm, I thought.  It would certainly pay to get an estimate for a kitchen for my new house while he’s around.

That’s when I remembered my beat-up table.  I asked him if he had a belt sander, and if so, would be interested in sanding down the table top when he delivers the bed?  So for another pretty sum we arranged that he’d do just that.

When my husband and I got to the owner’s house the next day, we tried to take apart the bed, but it wasn’t as simple as I originally thought.  It turned out the base was one big piece that you couldn’t unscrew, so we took the headboard and side rails and left the rest, telling the owner that the carpenter would be there the next day, assisted by my husband, to move the rest of the bed out of her house.

The next day my husband met the carpenter in Karmiel.  No one was home, but the landlady let us in to the apartment with her extra key and so they loaded the truck.  The bed was delivered and the carpenter spent two full hours outside our apartment on a very hot day sanding down the table top.  It looked like a new table when he was done and I was thrilled.  I wanted to put oil on it to make the wood more resistant to stains, but wasn’t sure where to buy it, so I asked the carpenter.  He suggested a store in Kiryat Bialik, a suburb of Haifa.  He wasn’t sure of the name, but he knew the name of another store that was nearby.

Re-assembling the bed would have to wait.

The next day I plugged the name of the store into Waze, but Waze didn’t recognize it.  I found an alternate spelling and it took me to a mall.  There was no such store in the mall, so I called the carpenter.  He told me the store was near a supermarket, so I found the supermarket, but not the store I needed for the oil.  I called the carpenter back and he tried to explain how to get to the store.  I finally found the store it was supposedly near, and that store owner directed me to another store and then the second store directed me to a third store.  Eureka!  It was a wholesale factory that produced finishes for wood products.

The secretary couldn’t believe I wanted shemen pishtan (linseed oil).  So she called a young man from the warehouse to the reception area.  He was sure I wanted a water-based polyurethane.  But when I repeated that I wanted linseed oil, he called his father, who came from the back of the warehouse.  The father thought I wanted an oil-based polyurethane.  When I repeated that I wanted linseed oil, he called his father from the warehouse.  The grandfather proudly explained that he was the founder of their varnish “empire,”  and it now supported and was staffed by 3 generations of his family.  He felt it curious that I wanted such an “old-fashioned” finish for my table, and wanted to know where I was from.  America!!!  He couldn’t believe it!  He was so proud that someone would come all the way from America to his varnish factory in the decrepit industrial zone of Kiryat Bialik just to buy his products!  He was beaming; he was kvelling.  His grandchildren were amazed.  Now, he insisted, I had to sit and tell him why I wanted linseed oil for my table, and tell him why I wanted to make aliyah; am I married? Do I have children? Why did I want to live in Moreshet? But no, he repeated, I didn’t want linseed oil, I wanted something called “dek” which is a blend of linseed oil and pine resin which would create a hard finish on  the surface of my table. He insisted on calling the carpenter because surely I was mistaken and the carpenter would convince me to get dek , if not the polyurethane.  The carpenter told him to give me linseed oil.  He glanced my way.

No, I insisted, I didn’t want dek, I wanted linseed oil.  The factory owner thought we Americans were a strange and confused lot.

“Fine!” he sighed dramatically, and told his secretary to ring it up.  “How much?” I asked.  He told me a price but his secretary quickly interrupted.  “Give her a 20 shekel discount,” she insisted.  “How often do you get customers from America?!?!

Light-headed from the combination of my newfound celebrity status and the fumes from the varnish factory, I made my way home. I got a call from the original owner of the bed.

“You forgot the mason board!” she said.  “It’s sitting here in my living room waiting for you to take it away!”  The well-meaning lady had moved the mason board from the bedroom, away from the bed, into the living room; and my husband hadn’t thought to look for it when they moved the bed out of the owner’s bedroom.

The carpenter and his truck were long gone, his pocket newly cushioned by a check written by my husband for services rendered.  I sighed.  I needed that mason board, but I had no interest in paying twice to get it moved.  With a friend, I  made my way to Karmiel and put the mason board on the roof of the car, tying it down with some rope I happened to have in the car.  I felt like a Girl Scout, prepared and capable! And of course I said a little prayer, so it wouldn’t fly off the roof of the car while driving on the twisty mountain highway that would take me home.

How ironic, I thought.  The very reason we originally hired the carpenter was to move only the mason board to our house.  In the process, we got a bed, our table was refinished, I had an adventure in an industrial zone in the middle of nowhere.  The mover-who-is-really-a-carpenter  is now giving me estimates for kitchen cabinets for our new house, and ironically, in the end, I moved the mason board on my own, anyway!

What’s App, Doc?

Six years ago, when I visited Israel, I wrote several blogposts on the sea changes that Israel had undergone in the many years since my previous visit.   One such post, “Young and Not Restless,” which you can read here, lamented the silencing of Israeli youth on buses and trains with the advent of social media:  everyone is plugged in and no one talks to anyone anymore.

But I was partly wrong:  Israelis are as chatty as ever – – they just communicate differently.

It’s called WhatsApp.

In case you are, like, a dinosaur or Rip van Winkle or something, WhatsApp is an application that sends instant messages via your computer or cellphone.  You can also send photos, and if your typing is slow, you can transmit voice messages.

WhatsApp is an invaluable tool for anyone living in Israel who has family abroad.  It means you can connect without charge.  It’s also great for someone on the cusp of aliyah.

We are building a home in Israel, and I needed to interview and choose an architect in Israel from my then-home base in the US.  When one architect suggested I contacted his references in Israel, I did – –  all twenty-five of them!!! – – using WhatsApp.  From rural Maine I spoke to twenty-five Israelis in Israel over a course of one week, asking them if they were happy with the architect, as well as detailed questions about construction, materials, etc.  Leave it to Israelis.  Not only did they answer my questions, they proudly gave me extensive and instant video tours of their homes via WhatsApp and some invited me to their homes for coffee when I’d get to Israel. In the process I made some valuable contacts  (yes, we hired that architect).  And it was all free (albeit time-consuming, but that’s not the fault of WhatsApp).

In the yishuv (village) where we live, there are 290 families.   When I innocently asked – – via a WhatsApp group, of course – –  how many WhatsApp groups there are in Moreshet, I found the staggeringly-high number of WhatsApp groups may exceed the number of people within the local population.  They include people who formed specific neighborhood groups; people who formed groups based on residents of a single street (especially useful for borrowing sugar); each and every grade in the local school has their own WhatsApp group to keep parents informed of school activities and conferences; there’s a Women of Moreshet group; Men of Moreshet group; the Teens of Moreshet group;  a Senior Citizens of Moreshet group; a Weekly Torah Portion women’s class group; the 8 a.m minyan group; the 1:30 Mincha  group; the Social Workers group; the Armed Fighters group; the Emergency Response Team Leaders group; the Ambulance Drivers group; the Soccer group; the Baseball players group; the Basketball players groups (separate groups for men and women); the Fifth Phase Construction group (that’s for the 45 families building new homes, of which I am a part); a group for changing the building restrictions codes within the Fifth Phase (that one has only 4 members); an English Speakers of Moreshet group; a babysitters group; a Mommy Camp group;  Friday and holiday trips groups; Torah classes groups; Bnei Akiva youth movement groups according to grade/age; a Piano Lessons group; a Bikur Cholim group which organizes meals and visits for people who are unwell; the Health Nuts group; the Looking for a Ride group; the Yemenite Jews of Moreshet group; and the Office of Moreshet group.  This is only a partial list.

Even if you are a member of a fraction of the available groups, it means your phone or computer is pinging all day with announcements of upcoming meetings and events as well as requests to borrow something missng from a recipe-in-the-making; offers for used items for free; requests for orders for fish, juice, whole wheat flour, yeast cakes, flowers and felafel, by people who sell these things as home-based side businesses in Moreshet; and requests for answers to sometimes-bizarre and random questions (my own included).

People who I’ve never seen in my life greet me as if I were a long-lost best friend back from the battlefield, because they “know” me from WhatsApp (apparently I’m easily identifiable thanks to my Standard Poodle, whom I walk several times daily).  This can lead to some embarrassing moments on my part since I’m new here, and  if someone speaks to me face-to-face out of context, I can only fake my way through a live conversation while trying to figure out who the heck they are.

What I want to know is, what happens if you are invited to a group and decide not to join?  Are you considered a frum freak or a snob?  Are there twelve-step Whats App Anonymous groups for those who want to delete themselves from their dependence on various WhatsApp social circles?  Is it possible to Just Say No to WhatsApp and still be part of the gang?

Meanwhile I’m trying to get a T’ai Chi class started in Moreshet.  I’m forming a group for anyone interested . . . via WhatsApp.