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Over the Edge

I need to get some sleep.  Everything is finally packed and ready.  I need to get up in 3 hours to meet the bus.  The bus will head up to New York, and from there an El Al flight will take me (and the family) to Israel.  We are scheduled to arrive at 8:30 am (Israeli time) on Thursday.  So much has happened over the last few days, but there has been no time to write.  I’ll try to reflect on some of it later.

Check out this link after the landing to see the arrival: http://www.nbn.org.il/live/

If you use facebook, you can find it at the “Official Nefesh B’Nefesh Fan Page” (http://www.facebook.com/NefeshBNefesh?ref=ts)

I gotta get some sleep.

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The Plan

It was a simple plan: let’s move to Israel. It sounds a bit overwhelming; after all, just moving to a new house across town can be a major operation and moving to Israel is obviously more complicated than that.  But is it really significantly more complicated than, let’s say, moving to another region of the US?  After all, once you’re moving more than a few hundred miles, does the distance really matter?

The distance probably doesn’t matter once you’re talking about more than a thousand miles, but there are plenty of other complications that do matter.  However, as long as we focus day-to-day on the issues at hand, and don’t think or dwell on everything at once, then it seems doable.

It was relatively easy to get accepted by the Jewish Agency as a new immigrant.  Israel has the “Law of Return” which provides a streamlined process to citizenship for Jews.  I guess that was probably the easiest part.

It was difficult telling our parents.  This great country (the United States) is so large that our families are already spread out across thousands of miles. Yet, the distance does not seem so great because we are all living in just one country. As a result, it was difficult explaining our desire to live on a different continent. Thankfully, everyone has been supportive (although many are concerned or worried.)

Selling the house was also a major pain.  We placed the house on the market last October with the intent to move to Baltimore. Why Baltimore? Well, why not? We currently live in Columbia, Maryland, which was rated recently by some big-shot survey as the #2 best place to live in the country. Guess what? I believe it! This is a great place to live — as long as you’re not us.

My children attend private day school…in Baltimore. The majority of our friends live…in Baltimore. The restaurants that we are willing to use are… in Baltimore. The kosher shopping is done… in Baltimore. The children’s friends live… in Baltimore.  So, although Columbia is a great place to live, it is not so great for us.

Anyway, it took so long to sell the house that we eventually realized that neither of us really like the city of Baltimore.  It would be convenient and we would be near our friends, but why move to a city that you don’t like when you can travel to some remote land where they speak a different language and constantly fight with neighboring countries.  Seems like a no-brainer. If nothing else, it should be exciting.

Quitting my job was difficult, primarily because it was a great job, with great people, and with a great mission.  The fact that the work was stable, profitable, not transferable, and really the only business that I know added to the difficulty. Having said that, now that I’m unemployed, I have a completely new perspective. I think I am enjoying life more without all those pesky work responsibilities. I guess I can see the appeal of living on welfare.

We sold the house at the perfect time (although, not at the perfect price). The timing really could not have been better. Instead of renting storage or having to move our goods into a temporary home, we were basically able to store everything in a great, big crate floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Sweet.

I think that we have basically completed the easy parts of the plan (although I still need to dissolve my corporation, which should also be relatively easy.)  Thankfully, the hardest part of the plan should also be the best part: learning Hebrew, starting a new career, and adapting to a different culture. At least that is what I want to believe. So for now, that’s the plan, and I’m sticking to it.

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Sold!

We sold our home today.  I am now officially unemployed and homeless.  With credentials like that, you’d think I could make a few extra bucks getting paid and bused by the Democrat Party to a few polling places this coming election. Fortunately for me, I do not have to suffer this sort of temptation.  My vote from overseas probably won’t get counted anyway.  But I digress….

The sale went very smoothly.  Yep — smooth.  The only glitch was the water pouring into the basement because the first-floor bathtub overflow was not fixed properly.  In fairness, the problem was partially fixed; I think some of the water drained properly.  My guess is that at least 50% of the water entering the overflow didn’t end up on the basement floor. That would have been okay, I suppose, if we had waited until the tub filled completely and then checked down stairs right away. Instead, the overflow was being tested for 10 or 15 minutes while the agents talked and we looked at other “more important” things.  At least the overflow wasn’t plugged up!

Anyway, the overflow was (improperly) fixed a couple of weeks ago.  I guess the job was so simple, so obvious, and so easy, that the plumber didn’t bother to test it. Likewise, I was so certain that it was fixed, that I also didn’t bother to test it.  The buyer’s agent didn’t know any better, so he tested it with the buyer during the walk-through prior to the closing.  This problem, however, was really a non-issue.  The plumber guarantees his work for 5 years and the guarantee is transferable to the new buyer.  Some time this week the work should be completed (again) and tested and that should basically be the last house hurdle that we’ll have in this hemisphere.

There was an interesting twist regarding the realtors.  It took us ten months and two realtors to sell the house. We used the first realtor for seven months.  There were plenty of showings, but no offers.  Our new realtor had a conflict on settlement day, so she was unable to be with us at the closing.  Instead, she sent a substitute realtor from her office to represent us.  The substitute was awesome and that worked out fine.  The buyer’s agent, however, was none other than our original agent, so we have a bit of (mostly friendly) history with him.  Given that scenario, I imagine things could easily become…awkward.  Thankfully, that didn’t really happen.  There was only one awkward moment.

After all the documents were signed and we were all just talking about whatever, the buyer’s agent suddenly gets really excited and states, “I’ve got a really good Jewish joke.” Red lights start flashing in my head: DANGER, DANGER.  But the buyer’s agent is also Jewish, so how bad could it be?

He tells his joke:

Two Jewish men go into a bar,… [pause] It could happen!

There’s an awkward pause while everyone waits a few moments until it is obvious that that was the joke in its entirety.  Then there was some light, polite chuckling while everyone but my wife looks around to see if someone else actually understood it.  My wife doesn’t laugh or chuckle; she just says, “Okay,…your point?”  His response is, “That’s it!” with a big grin on is face.  At that moment, he has the realization that no one understood his so-called joke, so he then tries to explain it.

Jokes are never funny when they are explained, so this one was sort of fresh and inventive because it also wasn’t funny before it was explained.  The explanation had something to do with Jewish men not drinking alcohol, or maybe not going to bars, or maybe not going to bars together, or maybe they were only pretending to be Jewish.  I don’t know.   I don’t think any of us could really figure it out, even though it was explained and justified several times.  Maybe it was supposed to be a joke about two Quakers or Mormons  or something.  Believe me, I know plenty of Jewish men who can drink alcohol and who go to bars with friends.

Anyway, my guess is that in about a month, I’m going to start hearing plenty of jokes that I don’t understand or find funny.  Jokes are never funny when they are explained; even less funny are jokes that are translated.

Categories: Pre-aliya Tags:

The Back Stairs

We are stuck within that zone of seemingly limitless time and maximal frustration — the region between receiving a contract for the sale of a home and the actual closing. This is the first time that I’ve been involved in selling a home during a “buyers market.” The last time I sold a home, the buyer paid more than I asked and basically took it “as is”. That’s not the case this time.

It hasn’t really been that bad — I can’t say that everything has gone wrong, but the whole experience has been…. well, unpleasant. To give you an idea, the night we decided to put the home on the market, we broke the glass cooking top on our stove. This happened while the realtor was signing the contract with us. In fact, it happened because the realtor was busy with us signing the contract. It’s almost like the house resented our decision.

With all of that in mind, I’m going to tell you about the backyard stairs. The home has a back door leading to the backyard. The door is a couple of feet above ground level. The builder didn’t bother adding stairs; they just put a couple of 2x4s across the exit. This isn’t the safest approach; any child (or adult) could crawl between the boards and fall the two feet to some horrid fate. But, apparently, this is “to code.”

I’m not really much of a “do it yourself” kind of guy. I’m pretty good with my hands, but I just don’t have the time and therefore never bothered to get the tools and therefore never really got much practice. However, I was perfectly capable of removing those pesky barriers so that we could have access to the backyard.

At first, we just used that one, huge, two-foot step that the builder didn’t provide. That lasted a couple of days. Then I started putting my wife’s step aerobics equipment outside. That lasted for a few months, but the rain really made a mess of it. Finally, it became obvious that I really needed to build steps (or a deck, but the steps seemed easier.)

I bought a kit from some Home Depot type store and built a set of very solid steps. The steps looked great and they were even level! Unfortunately, the ground near the door was not. So, not really knowing how to properly level the stairs, and because I was already tired of the job, and because I just wanted it finished even if it wasn’t quite right, I tore up the ground and forced the stairs in place.

These unlevel, railless stairs worked just fine for years until their genesis was mostly forgotten. Then we sold the house (or at least received a contract). The buyer’s loan is contingent on a home inspection and an appraisal. It’s a VA loan, so there are special rules. We were told that the appraiser identified the stairs as a problem and that they needed to be fixed.

Now, the way this works is the appraiser notifies the buyer’s realtor and the buyer’s realtor notifies our realtor and our realtor notifies us and we describe the problem to the “certified repair guy”. Have you ever played “telephone”?

We were told that the stairs need a railing so that it is up “to code.” Fine. We hired some “handymen” to fix odd little problems and we asked them to handle this. Please add a railing. They added a railing and also leveled the stairs as an added bonus: check.

About a week before settlement, we received an urgent message from our realtor. She says that she received a call from the auditor who needs to verify that the back stairs are up “to code”. Through this conversation, she learns that the stairs also need to be attached to the house. Back stairs: uncheck.

We bring back the contractors and ask them to attach the stairs to the house. Apparently this is not trivial because there is a duct under the stairs. Lot’s of talking ensues. Through this discussion, I have a realization: the appraiser doesn’t want a railing and he doesn’t want the stairs attached to the house — he wants the stairs brought up “to code”. Gulp. What the heck does that mean?

I call my realtor and ask the obvious question: “Do we need to attach the stairs or do we need the stairs ‘to code’?” Silence, followed by, words of uncertainty, followed by recognition that the auditor had stated in the written report that the stairs needed to be replaced. She decided to make some phone calls and I decide to talk to the contractors.

At this point, it is obvious to me that the stairs need to be to code. Do these stairs (with the new railing) look like they are “to code”?

These contractors know how to build things. They don’t know how to sell houses. Even so, they have a brilliant idea: ditch the stairs in the neighbor’s yard and put a couple of 2x4s across the door. That way, it will be “to code.” Brilliant. That’s how I bought the house and it was good enough for me. However, that’s not the way things work around here.

The buyer bought a house with stairs in the back. In addition, the house was appraised with stairs in the back. The stairs may have been old and worn-out, unlevel, without railings, and, in general, a hazard, but the house was still bought and appraised with stairs. So we can’t just get rid of the stairs without forcing a renegotiation of the contract and requiring a new appraisal. What? Those simple stairs that I slapped together and couldn’t get level — the loan hinges on those stairs? Apparently.

I could have eliminated the stairs by removing them before the buyer gave me a contract. Now, I must have stairs that are “to code”. So, I had the contractors build a brand new set of stairs, with railings, “to code”. I lived fine with the old set for years. Now, a week before the house is sold, I’m putting in a proper set for someone else. And the irony is that they are probably going to tear the brand new set of stairs down and build a deck. At least the appraiser is happy.

Here’s the final set of stairs…

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It Starts Here

This has been a busy week.  I lost my job on Tuesday.  Well, I didn’t really “lose” it.  I think I threw it away.  It was a great job working with great people.  I think I played a real part in making the World a better place.  The only problem is the job is in Maryland and I don’t want to be here anymore.

On Wednesday, my wife and I spent the entire day sorting through stuff.  What goes to the dump, what goes on the lift, what goes to charity, what do we keep with us.  On Thursday I watched a crew of packers run through my home transforming the “stuff” going on the lift into nicely packaged boxes and paper covered bubble-wrap.   Wow — and I thought sorting was hard.

Today, all those boxes were loaded onto a giant container.   (Same crew, but more sweat.)

I cannot believe how full that container is!  We will almost certainly need to rent storage for some of this “stuff” — maybe we can find cheap storage in a landfill.

The container will be trucked to a warehouse and then stored on a cargo ship.  I hope to see it again, G-d willing, in six to eight weeks.  I’ll be meeting that “stuff” on the other side of the World in Israel.

I still need to clean up the mess in the house, but that will have to wait until after שבת.

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