Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Israel – CCLXXXIV. Leaving for Canada (2 of 3)

Food was expensive back then; a sizable chunk of your earnings went towards putting a meal on the table.  We ate well, but that was due to the facts that there were three paycheques coming into the house; and that our rent was low.

Agriculturally speaking, Israel had taken an arid piece of land, and performed miracles.  In other words, we produced more than enough food; why then was feeding ourselves so expensive?

Taxes?  No, foodstuff was not taxed; there would have been a revolution in the land had this been the case!  And yet, certain staples were taxed; milk-products come to mind; and prepared food such as sandwiches were another example.

Then there were numerous subsidies going to various types of farmers; place dairy farmers on top of that list.  (In connection to what I mentioned above, apparently you paid both taxes and subsidies on dairy products!  Milk though was spared.)

Housing was a major problem.  Having a roof over your head required financial acrobatics that you’ll find hard to believe.

When I talk of accommodations, I am simply referring to a plain 1 or 2 bedrooms apartment.  Those apartments were usually part of a quadruplex, or a building that included from 6 to 8 apartments.  Detached homes or townhouses were rare.  Those apartments were called chicounim (singular chicoun).  And owning your own chicoun was the stuff of nightmares for young couples.

For all intents and purposes, renting was not an option.  There were some apartments for rent, but the rent was high, and it was tsamoud (tied) to the U.S. $.  Because of galloping inflation, a landlord was not prepared to fix his rent; instead, it fluctuated with how the Shekel fared in relation to the U.S. $; thus, if the U.S. $ was 5% above the Shekel, your rent went up by 5%!

My parents having secured a chicoun from the Jewish Agency were sitting pretty; they could either continue to pay their low rent, or buy their home under very favorable conditions.  For Robert and me though, we would one day need to buy our own homes.  So what did that entailed?

Few of us are keeping a large sum of money under our mattress; certainly not enough to buy a house!  So what does a young couple do?  Take a mortgage of course!  But in the Israel of the ‘60s such an option didn’t exist!  So what did the average Shlomo and Shulamit did when they wanted to get married and settle down?

It was a nutty and hard to believe solution.

First of all, you were well advised to save as much as you could for a down payment.  Work like crazy for a few years and salt as much as you could away.

For some reasons, the onus was largely on the guy to do so.

You’ve seen these nature programs where the female bird inspects the territory the male has been able to secure; if she is satisfied, the male can pass on his genes; if not she will look for another male!

Well, it didn’t unfold quite like that, for we are humans after all; but for young ladies the fact that you had properly planned for a chicoun could make all the difference between enjoying connubial bliss, or remaining a bachelor a while longer!

Planning for a chicoun meant having saved a substantial amount of money, or better still already owning a chicoun.  Of course, if you were a khatikh (good-looking man), all bets were off!

That said, the young lady also saved as much as she could.  As well, if possible, the parents helped.

Fine, you have now secured a down payment, what happened next?

You borrowed widely small amounts from banks that were willing to give you a loan.  You went hat in hand to various relatives and friends to ask for small loans.  To repay those loans, you sometimes had to borrow from one party to repay the other.  The expression “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul” was surely coined in Israel in those days!

I have a friend that went through this ordeal:  It took him about 5 years to repay the amounts due.  During that period, his wife and himself worked day and night.  They ate by their parents, for there was no money for food!  For that matter, some bills were settled by the parents!  When she became pregnant (this was before the pill was universally used), the little one was left with the parents of that woman.

I am sure you have by now concluded that the parents were full-time partners in that marriage!

There are more similar stories; but I am stopping here; for no doubt you get the picture.

But why didn’t mortgages existed in those days in Israel?  After all they are very lucrative for banks.  I have no idea!  The only good news was that there was a word in Hebrew for mortgage:  mishkanta.  Perhaps, a mishkanta was advanced under certain conditions; if so, a poor mortal like me wasn’t informed of that!

There was another solution.  There were old houses in Yaffo (and perhaps other places) where you could pay a dmei mafteya’h (key fee), and then paid a minimal rent.  What on earth is a key fee?  You paid a large amount of money, and it entitled you to rent that apartment at a reduced rent, and remain there for as long as you want.  If you left, your fee was returned to you (but inflation was ignored!).  The fee was certainly lower than buying a house, and if you have saved enough, this was your answer, with one qualification.

I went to visit a few of those places; one was acceptable (with a high key fee), but the rest were decrepit!  This certainly was not the way to get the girl!

But who owned those accommodations?  I am not sure; the government played a role, what it was, I don’t know.

I was informed by a cousin that in Canada, I could simply rent an apartment.  If I wanted to buy, a mortgage was easy to secure if I had a job and a good credit rating.

Not surprisingly, therefore, a number of young Israelis left their sunny country for the cold and snow of Canada!  And Robert and I were among them.

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