Monday, November 14, 2005

Friendly Neighbours

When comparing Israel to Canada, Israelis often say that they cannot understand how Canadians do not speak to their neighbours, and sometimes don't even know who they are!
When searching for apartments in September, Seth and I were getting desperate, and were willing to live anywhere. But I'm glad that we found a place in a nice neighbourhood like Nayot, because friendly encounters with our neighbours are always nice!
In Israel you often have to pay "va'ad bayit", which is a monthly amount that you pay to the owner of the building for maintenance, and in our case, heat.
Where we live, every condo is owned separately, and there is a committee, elected every few years to manage the affairs of the 3 buildings. The meetings are not preset, but are called whenever the committee gets tired of their job.
Today Seth, Jon and I attended the meeting which everyone was required to attend, to decide when the hot water and heat should be turned on, and the amounts of the monthly payments to be made by each condo.
Us being Americans and Canadians, we figured that if the meeting is mandatory, we have to go. We arrived promptly at 7:00pm, and walked into an apartment, with chairs arranged around a living room. Being Israelis, most people showed up late. And, of course, only about half the people showed up.
The first item on the agenda was electing a new committee. We discovered soon enough that it should have been called appointments and guilt trips. Luckily, because we are students and only renting for a year, we were spared. One of the members of the past committee started picking people out of the crowd, asking them why they weren't volunteering. One elderly women argued that she had already been on the committee and that was enough volunteering from her. So then the man turned to the guy sitting next to him and said: "why have you never been on? You are young and understand these matters! You have to be on and I don't want to hear any argument."
At this point we wanted to laugh...talk about an Israeli way to manage affairs!
Then the man at whose house the event was held, got up and walked to his kitchen as he complained about the fact that the meeting was held at his house, and how unfair it was because his wife wasn't around to help...(which should have been obvious since snacks consisted of a bowl of M & Ms and a bowl of avocados (not cut or peeled or anything!))
I always find these Israeli confrontations highly entertaining. But what I love about it most is that everyone was so straight forward, and told their neighbours what they thought, to their face. And that, regardless of all that, no feelings were hurt, and there were still moments of laughter.
The meeting was a small-scale example of Israeli life: you have to be quick-witted and you can't be afraid to stand up for yourself. Everyone is like that, so you shouldn't be sensitive. It's the way Israelis are: true "sabras": thorny on the outside, sweet on the inside.

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