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Nine (9) things I wouldn't have to tell a Canadian neighbour


I get alarmed sometimes, living in Israel.  There truly are moments when I just look around and realize we’re living somewhere utterly foreign, and I ask myself what we think we’re doing here, when it is so, so painfully clear that we don’t belong… such as when we have less-than-pleasant encounters with various neighbours in our building.  Sheesh.

This is a neighbourhood full of “characters,” and sometimes it’s fun and you can laugh it off.  But sometimes, you just want to cry and wish everybody could be Canadian, so you wouldn’t have to fill them in on the basics, such as…

1. Turn off your music -- it's 2 a.m. and I'm trying to sleep.

Israelis are sometimes strange about noise.  I have a personal theory that because it's such a small country, and you really can't get away from other people, they don't even bother trying.  There are no boundaries.  "If I feel like listening to music, then you feel like listening to music," is pretty much how many Israelis feel about their tunes. 

Also, this particular neighbour is a weird, too-thin skittish little guy who you just figure has got to be on a pile of something addictive, though obviously, we have no proof.  His behaviour has been pathological in the past. 

The fun part is him trying to convince us that this is what Israel is like, and if we don't like it, we should go back to Canada, where people are quiet and polite.  Which brings back memories of calling the police on inconsiderate neighbours in a few different situations... and, yes, of having them called on a party I held at one point.

But I think one difference is that this guy doesn't care, he'll just turn it right back on after the cops leave, just to show me he can.

2. That's not music, it's cats yowling.

I may not be the best candidate to move to the Middle East.  Some people really enjoy "Mizrachi" music, the swirling, wailing sound of notes that go up and down seemingly at random.  Then again, some people like chummus, which tastes like dirt paste.  Okay, to be honest, everybody here likes chummus—with a passion.  Except me.

I want to show up outside this neighbour’s door at 7 a.m. with some Vivaldi, but it would probably just lull him to sleep, like all the best music should.

2. Turn off your music -- it's 8 a.m. and I'm trying to sleep.

Not the same neighbour, obviously... he's too busy sleeping off his party the night before. 

But the Breslov neighbours who share a wall with us and like to motivate their kids up by blasting peppy frum tunes.  It's usually the kind of stuff I wouldn't mind listening to, because although they're at least half-Moroccan, they're pretty dedicated to being as Ashkenaz/Chareidi as possible.  But that doesn't mean I like it at 8 a.m. blasting through the walls.  However, these neighbours at least are not pathological.  When they were doing it mid-morning once, I went out and asked them to turn it down because I was working, and they did.

4. That's garbage.  Don't drop it on the lawn.

Okay, so I'm kidding:  there is no lawn.  What there is is an expanse of sand coated in a miasma of cigarette butts, discarded plastic forks and spoons, broken mirrors and dishes, whatever castoff furniture the kids are saving to burn on Lag Ba'omer (regardless of whether it's made of real wood or not), shiny plastic wrappings of things dropped by their eight children, whatever.  Once a year, they'll clean it up.

(In case you’re worried about the poor-poppet urchin neighbour kids all playing in broken glass—all 8 of them plus their friends—I wouldn’t worry: they’re the ones who found the mirrors, plates, windows, eta., and smashed them in the first place.)

Sometimes my husband rakes the area to get rid of the junk.  But as I've often said, passive-aggressive doesn't work here.  The only kind of aggressive that works is aggressive-aggressive, like taking all the crud and plopping it on their front porch, and he's not that kind of person.

5. That's a living plant.  Don't pull off the leaves.

I swear the neighbours' eight children had never seen a plant before we moved in.  And had no clue of the concept that it was a living being that might suffer damage if they pulled off all the leaves.  Of course, they also didn't seem aware of the concept of "not yours."  (With eight kids in a 2-bedroom apartment, I guess the lines might begin to blur a little.)

(I do have some little cacti, and they show appropriate respect around them, but otherwise, they help themselves to whatever the plants have to offer.)

The tough part of this is that they keep having kids.  By the time we managed to train the youngest one (Avigayil) not to pull off the leaves, two more had come along--meaning yet another toddler (Hadassah) to begin training to keep away from the plants.

6. That's a motorcycle.  Have you ever heard of a parking lot?

This isn’t just our building, it’s all over this neighbourhood.  People park their cars on the street, but I guess due to theft, or just due to cussedness, they park their motorcycles just wherever.  Usually on the lawn, sometimes in or near a shed, but in our case, right smack in the middle of the walkway leading into the building.  That’s the permanent parking space—the “music”-making neighbour mentioned in points #1 and #2 has actually installed a chain into the concrete so he can lock up there and not worry about his beloved bike being stolen.

On more than one occasion, having a motorcycle literally in the only entrance to the building has meant that a person with mobility issues (like a wheelchair) can’t get into the building.  Oh, and it also means that when he’s fixing his bike, he’ll sit there idling right under our window. 

I wish I could say it was just him, but the people over at our other building did it as well.  Certain young and not so young men take their bikes and cars very, very seriously, and will spend hours tuning them up, fixing them up, and idling them until everything is just right (or until we inside the building have all died of asphyxiation and carbon monoxide).

7. I'll get you the money for the stair lights on Sunday.

This is a result of living in a building that’s as run-down as ours is.  For most buildings in Israel, because it’s standard for each apartment to be owned by a different person, there’s a “vaad bayit,” building committee, similar to a condo committee or whatever they have where you live, which collects a set bi-monthly fee, say 100 shekels, in return for standard building maintenance things—mopping the stairs, tidying the yard, elevator maintenance (if you have an elevator, which we don’t!), and paying for lights in communal areas like stairwells.  The vaad bayit also sets aside money for emergency infrastructure repairs, like if a communal sewage pipe bursts. 

Our building, on the other hand, because it’s run-down, decrepit, and full of people who don’t care, is run the other way.  There’s no vaad bayit, which I’ve actually had Israelis tell me is “impossible.”  Ha.  This is actually our second building with no vaad bayit, because this is a run-down and decrepit neighbourhood full of people who don’t or can’t care.

So what happens instead is that when nobody pays the power bill for the stairway lights, the power gets shut off.  It doesn’t affect anyone individually—your apartment lights aren’t affected, just the stairs.  So people go up and down in the dark until someone takes it upon themselves to collect an equal share, say 20 shekels, which is what it was yesterday, from every single tenant, and then go to the post office to pay the bill. 

This works okay for lights—because the entrance to our apartment isn’t off the main stairway at all, we don’t use the lights there anyway (but we still have to pay!).  But it doesn’t work okay for emergencies, like when the city sends a huge bill to repair a burst sewer pipe, and every single tenant has to cough up their share or… well, I don’t know what the “or else” is, honestly. 

Fortunately, because we’re renting, this is our landlord’s obligation.  But we still have to turn over the cash and get reimbursed.

I don’t even know if it’s possible for a building in Canada to fall into such a state.  In Toronto, either a building is owned and/or run by a single property management company, so everyone has the same landlord, or it’s set up legally as a condo, meaning the apartments are individually owned.  You pay rent to the person who owns your apartment, who is then responsible for paying the condo fee.  There are other models, like co-op buildings, where everybody pays in and/or chips in, but that’s basically the extent of it.  In other words, the “group model” is built-in and enforced… so neighbours don’t have to run around grabbing money from each other to make sure the building doesn’t fall apart.

8. Your laundry is raining down onto mine.

This isn’t a problem in our current building, happily.  But in our old building, I noticed one day that just when my laundry was almost completely dry, it was raining down on everything… from the neighbour above.

I like to think a Canadian would have at least looked down and maybe figured out something else to do with her laundry.  To be fair, this was actually a neighbour we got along okay with, but even she didn’t think twice about setting up her wet, wet stuff right above ours.  (“Maybe it would inconvenience them to have their fresh, dry clothes all wet and sopping and stinky from my laundry soap??”) 

This one has a happier ending: when I asked her about it, she actually apologized, said her washer’s spin cycle wasn’t working very well which was why everything was coming out so wet, and that she guessed she’d have to call a repair guy.  So it didn’t happen more than a few times.  But again, would it have happened at all in Canada?  Maybe… maybe not.

9. We're both frum – so let's stick together.

This is a weird one, both happy and sad.  In Canada, religious Jews are a minority, even (usually) in so-called Jewish areas.  If you were living in a building and noticed another frum (religious) family, you’d probably at least nod, acknowledge one another, say hi. 

One of my favourite people EVER is someone I met standing forlornly in the lobby of a building I was checking out on a hot day, a frum woman who saw me with a tichel and two babies and offered me lemonade.  Now, Dini may be more sociable than most people (she is amazing!), but I think the impulse is natural—if you’re surrounded by people who aren’t like you, and you see someone who is like you, then you reach out.

Here in our religious neighbourhood in Israel, it’s not like that.  Or rather, it is—but it works against us.

Although we’re religious and our next-door neighbours are religious, I suspect that what they see when they look at us is just all the ways we’re NOT like them.  We speak English and they don’t.  We’re Ashkenazi and they’re not.  We’re more dati-leumi, with 2 kids in the local public schools,  while they’re more chareidi, with a number of kids in various chareidi schools. 

In other words, while in Canada we would be very much like one another, here we are very unlike one another, and generally we don’t do more than nod politely as we’re coming and going.

It leads to a weird kind of isolation, where on the one hand, yes, you’re surrounded by religious Jews, but on the other hand, because they’re in a comfortable milieu where they comprise the majority, they may see more difference than similarity when they look at you.

I suspect there’s more we could do about this.  We could reach out more invite families from our kids’ schools.  We don’t have coworkers (I work from home, and Akiva works with Arabs in Akko!), but we could find like-minded people nearby and make more of an effort to hang out with them instead of sticking with the English speakers we know and are comfortable with.

Do you sometimes feel like a fish out of water, in Israel or wherever you’re living?  Tell me all about it – and any solutions you might have discovered! – in the comments:

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


  1. Your comment about Mizrachi music is super super Ashkenormative and racist.

    1. What race is "Mizrachi"??? I thought we're all the same race. In any event, I'm well within reasonable limits saying I don't like something. I acknowledge it's not music I'm used to or familiar with. And when my neighbour is shrieking the stuff in my window at 2 a.m., yeah, I've been known to curse it pretty hard, just as I would if it was Mordechai ben David. :-)
      Thanks for stopping by anyway. I do appreciate the feedback about how my comments can be perceived.

  2. BS"D
    Wet ear plugs are one of the greatest boons to civilized living. Offers choice in perception.

    Shalom Al Yisroel


    1. Yitzchok,
      Thanks for stopping by -- even if it took a while for me to see your comment! I don't know what wet ear plugs are, but I spent most of last spring with a dreadful outer ear infection that would not go away and tend to avoid any moisture around the ears... or any plugs that aren't conveying music. :-)

  3. Taste in music is very personal. I go for Beatles and old Israeli folk tunes, but find that the "mizrachi" music makes me go grrr.
    And the motorcycle passing by my bedroom window where there isn't a road ruined my sleep last night.

  4. This post is included in my very latest blog roundup Blog Round-Up, Lots to Read.

  5. Where I live in the US is super liberal, pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Almost like a parody of the leftists who love illegal immigrants, Muslim refugees, Black Lives Matter and anyone who thinks they're the wrong gender. Needless to say, I'm not exactly a good fit there. I've no advice for dealing with this except moving I suppose.

    And in Israel, besides the points you make, one of my pet peeves is people who handle and squeeze all of the breads, rolls etc. in the bakery before they decide which ones they want to buy. Super gross! Cannot imagine anyone doing this in the US or Canada.

  6. A number of years ago, a family member born and raised in Jerusalem well over 70 years ago, phoned the police/city hall to complain that in their neighbouring schunah, there was a wedding going on (it had celebrants from around the world) and since he had not been invited and that it was 2:00 a.m. and he had to get up early, he felt he should be entitled to a little bit of peace and quiet to sleep a bit. Both sides were ashkenaz-one chareidi, one chassidish. Don't know the upshot but I was very proud of him. In my late mother's apt. bldg (she was a tenant) there were a large number of tenants who had immaculate individual aparts but the corridors and staircases were disgusting (piece of discarded slices of pizza anyone). These immigrants to Canada came from a culture where the state owned the bldgs and so who cared. Many of those immigrants live here. p.s. you should have followed the news about the Jamison Street area where the tenants complained to City Hall over and over again about absolutely terrible conditions that their landlords ignored. Similar garbage on both sides of the pond.


I'd love to hear what you have to say.