25 Tevet 5768
January 3, 2008
Dear Friends and Family,
Last Friday seemed like a typical frantic erev Shabbos in the winter when there is never enough day. I did not organize myself to cook efficiently on Thursday. To make matters worse, since I let my household chores slide so I that could enjoy the most wonderful visitors that we had here last week, the laundry competed for my attention when I needed to be in the kitchen. I was tired, and although I tried to pull myself out of the mire, I still sank deep into complaining mode. Unsuccessful were my efforts to censure the negative, worrisome thoughts that seeped in between the bright moments of anticipation for the relaxing and radiant Shabbos we had planned. Yet, the day sped on and finally the table was set, the house sparkling and an end was in sight. I just had to shower and dress, then I could sit for a bit before lighting the candles.
As I pulled the last two fragrant challos out of the oven and turned to put them on the counter to cool, I noticed a that a curious puddle of water was seeping into our entryway from under the door to our courtyard. “Uhhhh David, I think we have a problem.” David came into the room as the puddle spread itself past the staircase. All he had time to say before the mass of sludgy water lunged towards the kitchen was, “OH YES WE DO!” We rushed to open the door and find the source, where we saw that the drain, meant only to collect rainwater, was bubbling up raw sewage, and because of the construction of the entry, had only one way to go—inside our house!
You cannot even imagine how awful this was. We did not know when it would ever cease. I started grabbing towels to stop it from traveling down the hall into our bedroom. David grabbed a board to cover the drain and set a heavy piece of an old column (that we just happened to have lying around in our courtyard) on top of the board to hopefully keep the steady stinky flow in check. It sort of worked, but our house was still filling up like an overflowing toilet. I knew we needed a plumber but didn’t have the wits about me to make the call. I fled the house and ran to the door of a neighbor who had helped us out once before when we blew the electricity-also a couple of hours before Shabbos.
This neighbor, Yechezchel Cahan is gabbi at the Ramban Synagogue where David often goes to pray. He is a modest, serious and very kind man who is sort of the ambassador/mayor of the little street we live on. He knows everyone and their stories, not because he is nosy, but because he cares so much. Mr. Cahan’s English is not great, but it’s much better than my Hebrew. Since I was almost hysterical when he answered the door cellphone to his ear, he could not understand what in the world I was jabbering about. He briefly spoke in Hebrew to the person on the cellphone and then handed it to me with instructions that I tell the person on the other end what was wrong. I blurted that the sewer was overflowing into our home and we needed a plumber ASAP, then handed the cellphone back to Mr Cahan. “OK,” he calmly assured me after hearing from our translator, “I know what to do.”
I ran back to our apartment to find David squeegee-ing the mess out the door towards the drain, which by now had subsided in its overflow. It was a slow process, the stench was unbearable and we were so afraid it would start to back up again at any moment. Yechezchel Cahan came over and told us a plumber was on the way. Chezchi, as David calls him, spent quite an amount of time assuring me that this plumber was a good, honest, reliable man who had done a lot of work on his house, so I should not worry. At some point, I realized the reason he spent so much time praising the plumber, was that it was an Arab. After all, who else could come so close to Shabbos?
Within 20 minutes there was the plumber from Yericho and his young son working on the backup. Lo and behold, they had it cleared in about 15 minutes!
Now we had to contend with the clean up. We did not know when we’d be able to live in our house again, it seemed we’d have to call a professional cleaning company. It was an hour and a half until candle lighting; we were expecting 10 for dinner and another 10 for lunch, all out-of-towners who were counting on us to feed them. We had really been looking forward to these guests. Weeks ago, Dovid Solomon, an extraordinary tour guide and dear friend, asked us to host some of his tour group of American secular high school students. We love having kids like that here, kids who are getting their first taste of Shabbos and first exposure to the air of Yerushalyim. Ron, Yehuda Avraham, Max and Joel Ezoory were also joining us; Ron’s enthusiasm for Eretz Yisrael is always energizing. For lunch, I had been looking forward to visiting with Sydney Rubin Lewis, Rachael, Abby and Josh. Darling Fayge Grossblatt was coming with friends; I know they had to do some juggling to arrange to be with us for the meal. Where were they all going to go?
As David and I tried to decide what we should do about our guests, we poured disinfectant all over the floors, squeegee-ed it out the door and down the now accepting drain. Maybe we’d move the Friday night meal to our generous friends, the Millers’ since they offered. But lunch was going to be a problem. The Millers were having 12 men and yeshiva students and our ten would be just too much. Meanwhile, bad news from the plumber. He went into our neighbor’s courtyard and found their boor was about to overflow as well so he unclogged it. But the source of our clogs was a clog down the line. Way down, about 50 meters; and who knew exactly where, and who was responsible? Everyone (by now, several neighbors were heatedly discussing this, all in Hebrew, of course-and we had no clue...) decided it was the “Iriya’s” -the city’s-responsibility.
By this time the disinfectant bottle was empty, the windows were open and dehumidifiers at full blast. It was now an hour until candle lighting. The stench in the air was beginning to clear. I poured bottles of white and cider vinegar all over the floors, thinking that might help. We squeegeed it into every corner and crevice, and out the door into the drain.
The plumber left, convinced he could do nothing else. When David asked how much money he wanted, he gave the most unbelievable response: he said he could not charge us anything, not a shekel. He said since he did not fix the problem, he could not take money!! Mr. Cahan and David insisted he at least charge for his time and gas, and he only asked for 200 shekel, about $50.00. Amazing. A plumber comes in 20 minutes, works for an hour and refuses to take money.
Mr. Cahan called “the Iriya.” All of the drains in our line in the Old City were certainly going to back up in the next few hours, ours first, if they did not come to unclog the primary source of the problem. Would they come before Shabbos? David & I did not think that was probable.
Even after two liters of disinfectant and four liters of vinegar, we still felt we had to clean more. David said we should pour boiling water on the floors. So I boiled up some pots and made use of the kum-kum (hot pot). We poured many many bucketfuls of steaming water over every square centimeter of the floor, into every crevice, behind the washing machine, and under the refrigerator then squeegeed it out to the drain. Then we did it again. And again. I’d say we ended up kashering our floors about three times.
Still, we were worried that even with our boor and our neighbor’s also being clear, normal plumbing use could cause another overflow, so we resigned ourselves to the horror of a potential repeat, set up dams of towels and with less than an half an hour to Shabbos, we loaded our food into the bubby cart, grabbed some clothing and headed to the Millers. We did not know how we were going to host all our guests or where we were going to sleep, but we had to go into Shabbos b’simcha; that was the ONLY thing we were sure of.
At the Millers, we quickly showered (with lots of soap) and dressed. David ran out to minyan; in our rush he’d forgotten his hat, coat and siddur-and I ran upstairs just in time to light. A moment later we heard a knock at the door. It was Yechezchel Cahan on his way to mincha....with news that the Iriya had miraculously come and cleared the line!!
With trepidation I went home and peeked in the house. It had never sparkled more, it had never smelled cleaner. Our guests came to us after all, and never knew (until now) the utter chaos that had overrun our serene home just a few hours earlier.
That Shabbos turned out to be the best Shabbos ever.
In the city of Jerusalem it is clear that nothing happens without a reason. There is always something to learn from any “random” happenstance. What did I learn?
I cannot know the ways of Hashem, but certainly, He sent this as a test. I think we passed. We thanked Hashem as we poured disinfectant, vinegar, boiling water and squeegee-ed it all away. We said, “I’m so glad this did not happen last week,” (when our guests arrived at 2:00 PM to spend all of Shabbos with us). “It’s a good thing this did not happen when we were sleeping at night, or out for an hour, or away on a trip.” “What bracha that there was a squeegee we could borrow.” “The chesed of Hashem to have placed such a kind Yechezchel Cahan available to help on an erev Shabbos --and on the phone with an English speaker at the very moment I knocked on his door.” And more: how did I happen to purchase, during our first week here, a disinfectant that smelled so bad I almost threw it away several times, but thought...you never know? How did I make a mistake and end up with four bottles of vinegar-all of which we used on the floor? Who would have thought that an Arab and the Iriya would expend such effort? After all, neither are known for their willingness to help a few swamped Shabbos loving Jews.
As David & I worked together to rid our home of the grossest kind of physical impurity, I thought about the spiritual impurity I brought into our home that day. Instead of asking Hashem to carry my worries, I sank deeper into them. I allowed negative thoughts to bubble into my day and did not ask for the koach, the strength, to fight them. I complained under my breath—so that only Hashem could hear-- and did not praise Him: the One Who invited us to live here in Yerushalayim and be His neighbors, so near to His holy home. I did not have simcha, even though I certainly have every reason to overflow with it.
As I finish this letter, it is again a Thursday night, and I still have much to do to get ready. So I’d better go, because I have to prepare my home, and my thoughts, for the next best Shabbos ever.
Come Home Soon,
Rena & David