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Devaluation Solved Problems

devaluation Ann Bar-Dov's first home in Israel: this building on Uruguay Street, Jerusalem (Photo: Google Maps)

 Perhaps the Cosmic Rule of Serendipity is that you only get a certain amount of it, and either it is spaced out throughout your life, or you get it all at once.

In my case, I am pretty sure it is the latter.

The serendipity that the cosmos decided was my portion manifested itself back in 1977, when my husband and I were newlywed, new immigrants to Israel. We were mightily tired of our room in the absorption center and wanted to buy an apartment in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, even with immigrant rights, privileges and mortgages, the savings we had brought with us didn't begin to cover the cost of any kind of reasonable housing.

We spent months looking at old and new apartments in every nook and cranny of the city.In those days, the Jewish Agency was still offering new immigrants apartments at reduced prices in far-flung areas, but there was always something peculiar about these offerings. For instance, we could have bought an apartment in the suburb of Gilo where the kitchen was so small that the refrigerator had to be set up in the living room, which in turn meant that the door leading into the apartment from the outside hall could only be opened halfway.

After many fruitless excursions and weeks spent wondering if we would ever find a place to live, we decided to buy a tiny apartment on the top floor of a housing project in the Kiryat haYovel neighborhood.

The apartment had been built in the 1950's for that era's crop of immigrants.The plumbing was interesting. You flushed the toilet by pulling down on a handle attached to a tank high on the wall.We were warned not to even think of throwing toilet paper into the toilet - the pipes were too narrow to allow passage.The kitchen was exactly big enough for a refrigerator, a sink and a stove, the bedroom exactly big enough for one bed and one chair.The other two rooms faced a main street and, even with the windows closed, throbbed with noise every time a bus or truck passed.

The purchase would bankrupt us. There would be no money left for a stove, a refrigerator, closets – nothing.There would be no money left for a car, even with immigrant purchase privileges.This was definitely not the way I would have liked to start life in a new country, but it was the best we could do.

On the bright side, at least we would be out of the absorption center.We would have a place to live, a place to set up the furniture we had shipped to Israel (a bed and four folding chairs).

I vividly remember the evening we signed the sales contract with the owners, who were as eager to get out as we were to get in.Lawyers were present to oversee the signing and to make sure that no one could wriggle out of anything.It was emphasized over and over that we, new immigrants with a shaky command of Hebrew, understood that the contract was binding, and that once it was signed, nothing in it could be changed.

The owners, who had once been new immigrants themselves, demanded immediate payment in the lira (Israeli pound) equivalent of the dollar sum agreed on, as determined on the date the papers were signed. Here too, we were told many, many times in both English and Hebrew that the lira sum agreed upon was binding and unchangeable.

The signing took place on a Thursday evening.Friday morning, I was summoned to the front desk of the absorption center.A telephone call had come in for me, and the caller had left a message that I was to call back at once.Of course, calling back entailed a search for asimonim, telephone tokens, and this took some time.Finally, though, I was in the booth and dialing the number I had been given.

The person on the other end of the line was our lawyer.Upon hearing my voice, he began to shout at me and it took a little while before he calmed down enough to deliver his message.

The message was that overnight, a massive devaluation of Israel currency had taken place. Something called decontrol had gone into effect, which meant that the lira's value against the dollar had been increased by a full 50%.

In other words, instead of spending our last speck of capitol on the apartment alone, we had automatically acquired another half of the value of the apartment to do with as we wished.

We could buy a refrigerator, a stove, closets, furniture, even a car.

The sellers of the apartment were furious, but there was nothing they could do.As had been pointed out time and time again, the terms of the contract were binding.

Welcome to Israel!

 

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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

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