You know, I hadn’t realized just how cramped I was feeling, or just how suffocated, pressured and squashed I was in the small apartment we just left.
We moved into that apartment 3 ½ years ago to get away from our neo-nazi landlord who bumped up the rent after just three months, and mamash had storm-trooper tendencies, especially when it came to the cardinal sin of me hanging my washing up in ‘his’ designer house.
And for that first year, that tiny apartment was like a sanitorium, or a rest-home for broken and battered-by-life people. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t have guests, because I had no energy for guests. I didn’t mind that I didn’t feel like cooking up big feasts in the pokey kitchen, because I’d lost my appetite anyway.
Then the second year, I got some energy back and I tried to have guests (wedged awkwardly around our too-big table) and it was always a hassle, for a lot of reasons. The final straw came when we tried to do a sheva brachot for someone my husband used to learn with, and even after we moved the massive sofa and the rest of the furniture out of the salon, there still was scarcely any room to breathe.
That evening was so stressful for me that I told me husband ‘no more! We can’t do any more sheva brachot, we can’t invite any more people! This apartment really won’t let us.’
In the meantime, my kids supplied the lack.
Teenagers don’t mind sleeping piled all over the floor; they don’t mind squashing two people to a seat; they don’t mind that none of your plates match, or that everything is plastic. So for the last three years, pretty much the only guests we had in that house were aged 16 and under.
Every now and then I’d pine for a place where I could swing a cat, and not stub my toe on all the furniture blocking the path to my kids’ room, and where I could do an exercise routine without rapping my knuckles on the back of a hard wooden chair, or knocking all the ancient dust off my (low down) light shade.
But mostly, I just tried to grin and bear it. Because we were in a situation where I couldn’t see anyway to get out of it, and I knew the test was to work on my patience and emuna, and just try to accept God’s will.
BH, a couple of months’ ago, God finally threw us the key to get out of that particular prison, and I’m writing this from an apartment in a different part of town, that is costing us around the same in rent but is nearly twice as big.
It has two toilets!
It has a utility room, so I don’t have to worry about electrocuting myself with the washing machine every time I take a shower (and yes, I did actively worry about that at least once a month - more at the beginning.)
For the first time in years, both my sofas can be in the same room, which means there’s enough space for everyone to cosy-in on a Friday night. And you can actually walk around my table - all the way around it - which is also something that hasn’t been possible for 4 years.
When you rent, you can’t change much in the house to your taste. The first two years, I didn’t want to even paint the kids’ room a different colour (like they were begging me) because I didn’t want the hassle of changing them back to white when we left. Imminently.
Which we didn’t do.
So by year three, I painted one room duck-egg blue and the other pink with one wall of purple ‘natznatz’, or glitter paint. And on the one remaining white wall in that room, my daughter copied out - by hand! - all the words to her favorite song, and wrote it on the wall in permanent marker.
Hey, if you’re going to do something, do it the whole way.
Within two months of finishing her room, the pillar of cloud lifted and we got the signal that we needed to move on.
Thank God, we managed to find something to buy before we left Musrara, and it’s a lovely flat even though it definitely needs some work. So in the meantime, we are renting in a different neighborhood for a final six months, and all my pictures and mirrors are staying packed, and nearly all my books are staying boxed, because I don’t have the koach to do it all twice between here and August.
So I feel happy that the house test is hopefully nearly over, and also relieved that Hashem has taken us out of a very narrow place, and also a bit sad that the last few years have been so difficult, in some ways.
I know we all had to go through it all. I know my family is now much less spoilt and far more appreciative of our blessings. I got over my ‘toilet kooties’ (mostly…) and past my snobby arrogance about being a home owner (mostly…) and I tried really, really hard to see the good and to focus on the good of my situation (mostly…)
Sometimes it was easier than others. It took me years to realize why I’d hear strange male voices accompanying the single man upstairs in the wee hours of the morning. Once that particularly penny dropped, I was so grossed-out I had a ‘leave now’ urge pass over me for a good fortnight.
Then there was the fight between two families in my block - a chareidi version of the Crips and the Bloods, except they were fighting over a bike, not a person - which resulted in the police being called and a quite a lot of bad blood sloshing around afterwards. One of those families moved out a couple of weeks’ ago, shortly before we left.
Before my old neighborhood went mostly Breslov, it was mostly gangsters, and sometimes that vibe is still vibrating in strange ways throughout the walls.
But here’s some of what I’ll miss:
boys with massive payot and na-nach kippas playing football in the local migrash (court) next to my window. Apparently secular neighbors who quote the Zohar at you by heart. Conversations between old friends where one of them is a chassid on a motorbike with his tzitzit flying, and the other one is walking next to him in jeans and T-shirt.
The little neighborhood Nachmans setting the recycling bin on fire pretty much every Pesach, when they burn their chametz (it’s mostly accidental. I think.)
I’ll also miss the eccentric makolet man who sometimes asks me to hand him bottles of Arak to help him stock the shelf; and the Kotel being a 10 minute walk away, and strange this, the sound of the muezzin blaring away at 5.30 in the morning.
And of course, I’ll miss the madness and kedusha that is the Rav’s shteibel, where I routinely got run over by ladies with strollers, and kids with strollers, and even toddlers with strollers (when a toddler runs straight at you with their stroller and it’s a direct hit, it really hurts, let me tell you.)
It’s another new stage. Another new start. Another new house.
This time it struck me that while moving is really, really hard, when you’re stuck in a place of constriction and limitation, the hardships of moving are actually still an enormous blessing.
I just hope I can remember that when it takes PazGas another two weeks to send round a technician to hook up my gas burners.