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My Petrol Oven

Petrol-oven Illustration by Cookie Moon

It was hard to concentrate as Gidi (the fireplace maven) explained how to turn on the austere black oven that stood majestic in the corner of the living room. The first thing he showed me was how to open the valve in the back to let in petrol. Such a simple instruction – yet I felt overwhelmed at the task.

Of all the challenges I have faced as a Jerusalemite moving to a quiet country lane in the heart of suburbia, the trial of lighting the kamin has been by far the most difficult. In Jerusalem all I needed to do was bask in the warmth of the central heating taken care of by our house committee. Here, in the north of Israel, I literally have to shove my hand into a fire to keep warm.

Gidi fell to his knees and with the help of the flashlight app on his iPhone, pointed to the puddle of petrol that had started to form on the hollow floor. I bent down next to him, noticing for the first time the name GODIN engraved in bold letters inside a crest of arms on the front of the oven.

We huddled together, peering through the cavity. Is that it? I asked, confused, as a patch of liquid dribbled out. Gidi nodded and took out the tall cylindrical grate that he called a migdal, lit a match and threw it into the dark cavern. It kindled immediately.

I had had the choice of buying a petrol, gas or wood stove to heat the new high-ceilinged house. Gas ovens are apparently easy to ignite via a remote, but I was advised against them as their heat doesn't linger when switched off. Wood was out of the question as I'm unable to lug in the logs or Cinderella the ashes - so petrol it had to be – but I was regretting that choice as Gidi stuck his arm inside the first flares to position the grate back in place. For an alumnus of a combat unit in the IDF it was an easy mission - but I knew that I would never be able to do it. It just seemed impossible.

However lovely my new house; spacious and light-filled, lemons and avocadoes abundant in the garden, at that moment I just wanted to run back home to the Holy City.

Nine thousand shekels later, a hole drilled into the ceiling to accommodate the chimney and a tube attached to the petrol tank in the garden, I knew it was too late for the gas remote control option however much I wanted it.Why had I listened to my dear friend Elana? Didn't she remember Lag B'Omer bonfire celebrations where instead of absorbing sparks of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's sacred Zohar, I focused on the hazard that could maim the children running around unsupervised?

A howling soon vibrated from within the kamin. Tall flames were licking at the window and soon the ominous din turned into what sounded like a trapped hurricane that could engulf the house. Gidi, seeing my panic, assured me that it was just residue solar being burned up.

After a few minutes, the inferno gave way to a perfect circle of flickering blue - just like an ignited gas ring on a kitchen stove top. Guess I got worked up over nothing, I said, shy at my city-girl response.

But Gidi was not by my side the following evening when I had to brave it alone. Dressed in an old T-shirt for the occasion, I had all the accessories at the ready: neon-orange gardening gloves, extra-long matches and a powerful flashlight.

Images of second-degree burns plagued me as I crept forward on my stomach just as I imagined Gidi had done when he infiltrated Gaza in Operation Protective Edge. That posture would give me a prime view of the emerging puddle. There it was, growing like an amoeba. My mouth went dry. My fluorescent hands shook. As I crouched by the opening, it was time to throw in the match. Pushing my (highly inflammable?) gloved hand into the furnace, I struggled to place the tower back over the fire. The grill just wouldn't lock into place. My heart was beating fast. The flames would multiply within seconds. I slammed the door shut, switched off the valve and stood back waiting for an explosion. Oblivious to the single light still burning in the back of the oven I went to bed wearing two cashmere sweaters for warmth.

The following morning, I awoke to an aroma of burnt toast. I soon noticed that the ozeret's previous day's spring clean of the book shelves, floors and table tops was now sprinkled with a fine layer of soot. Before I could even try to heat up the house again, I had to clean the soot out of the oven.

I knelt down, as if in prayer at an altar, and beseeched the Lord to help me. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the window above, I was taken aback. My cheeks were smudged with soot, my nails blackened with grime.

A smile broke out over my grubby face as I realized that it was not only a geographical shift I had made. I myself was changing, loosening up. I didn't need to play damsel-in-distress anymore as I was now a country girl who could get down dirty and play in the mud. My chimney-sweep appearance gave me the confidence I needed.

I donned the gloves and lit a match – armed for battle, primed for glory. 

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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

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