It’s so true that you sometimes only appreciate what you have when you don’t have it any more.
For three long years, I’ve been bewailing being stuck in my current apartment, the so-called ‘rented dump’ which was a third of the size of my old house in the village, and that has only one toilet.
And no bath.
That bath thing upset me so much the first two years because I have had some pronounced germ issues, and the thought of having to use the bath at the local mikvah was pretty challenging, to say the least.
Especially that (thankfully unique…) time when I got there and someone’s clipped toenails were still scattered around everywhere. I almost left… but couldn’t. I came home in such a bad mood, that this was my lot in life, having to bathe surrounded by someone else’s mouldy toenail clippings.
Uck uck uck.
So the bath was a sore point.
The one toilet was also a sore point, for similar reasons. In the West, it’s de rigeur to have a guest toilet for other people, and one you keep just for you. My germ issues loved this arrangement! To bits!
And then suddenly, there was one toilet for everyone: me, the rest of my family, my kids’ 15 girl-friends that would show up for Shabbos, my landlord, the charity collector who knocked on my door, the rare Shabbos guest.
Uck uck uck.
But after nearly four years of this, I have to report that most of my germ issues have reduced greatly, so there is a silver lining to that cloud.
But then, there were other issues like having just one working electric socket in every room. For three years, I had to literally wrap myself in electric cables to be able to print anything off, or to have a light on concurrent with my CD player.
We’d trail a cable across 20 metres of floor to plug in a radiator in during winter. And I’d trip over it every single time I walked around. That’s just how it is.
Then, there was neighbors’ insistence that I should sponga the outside stairs every two weeks, which I just couldn’t do. I have many talents, but housekeeping barely makes the list and sponga is completely off it.
The first time, it took me an hour, I soaked the bottom of my (long) skirt in bleach water, and I couldn’t figure out how to whisk all that water down the stairs and out the entrance fast enough to:
a) actually clean the stairs
b) prevent the dirty water from seeping under my downstairs neighbour’s door.
She came out with an extremely displeased expression on her face, and I could see this sponga thing was just not going to work.
So, I’ve always had one neighbor or other upset about the stairs - both on the rare occasions I tried to clean it, and the far more frequently occasions when I didn’t.
Then there’s the location. Musrara. So close to the Old City, Meah Shearim, Downtown - and the Rav.
So busy. So crazy. So intense. So lonely.
And yet now that it looks like I have to leave, at least for a few months, I’m starting to really appreciate what I truly have in my neighborhood. Even the crazies that have been driving me bonkers for three years.
People around here are alive, they’re real. And I have my place in the pantheon of neighborhood characters, I’m the crazy ‘English’ person that no-one can quite figure out.
They see me pop up at the Rav to read tehillim with my beach chair, then they see me wearing weird hats that no-one else within 5 miles of Meah Shearim would touch with a bargepool.
They hear me blasting out Gad Elbaz (occasionally….) and then hear my household blasting out Tyler Swift, and a few other things besides. I see the obvious confusion on their faces not infrequently, because whatever box they’ve got handy, they can’t quite fit my family into it.
So, we’re kind of famous around these parts, as the weird, semi-frum English family who are into the Rav but whose kids have blue hair.
Wherever we go next, we’ll be anonymous again.
So, the point of this post is that I’m understanding that because I didn’t appreciate my apartment, and because I also didn’t appreciate my neighborhood, at least for long swathes of time, I now have to leave, at least for a few months.
We’re still hoping to stay in Jerusalem, but nothing is coming up for rent remotely close to Musrara except places that are up four flights of stairs in the ‘gay’ area of town where you have to put your oven and fridge on the balcony as there’s no space for them in the kitchen.
And that’s too much of a stretch, even for me.
So dear reader, mea culpa for not appreciating my rented dump enough.
I learned my lesson, the hard way, the same way I always seem to learn my lesson.
But BH, that also means that hopefully when we return to Musrara in the Summer, I’ll have a renewed appreciation for this mad, crazy, intense and amazing neighborhood.
Where Breslov rebbes and crazy chilonim rub shoulders, where you see chassidim on motorbikes, payot flying, where your apparently ‘secular’ neighbor quotes passages of the Zohar by heart, and where every preconceived notion you ever had about life in Israel is challenged head-on.
I’ll miss you Musrara.
But BH, I’ll be back soon.