I was walking back from looking at yet another bad apartment. I had just looked at an apartment that was way too dark, and way too far from the part of Prospect Heights where I wanted to live, and I’d gotten at least three mosquito bites while waiting for the broker.
Oh, and it had just started to rain. Not that light, refreshing summer rain that makes you want to throw up your hands and dance. No, this was the kind of rain that soaks you to the bone in five seconds flat.
So, when I walked by the broker’s office, right there on Franklin Avenue – back on one of the “good” blocks, my first thought was, “gee, it looks awfully dry in there.” The idea that stopping in there might actually help me find an apartment was more of an excuse to step inside.
The broker who greeted me introduced himself as Ari, and I was pretty sure his accent was Israeli. On a whim, I introduced myself with my Hebrew name, “Rakhel” instead of Rachel.
“Ah,” he said approvingly. “A beautiful name. You speak Hebrew?”
Feeling suddenly self-conscious, I answered, “A little.”
“You are looking for an apartment?” he asked. I said yes, and began to describe what I was looking for. He gestured for me to sit in the chair that was pulled up beside his desk, and called up a website on his computer.
He asked questions; I answered them. When he asked what my geographical boundaries were, I asked, “Do you know what an eruv* is?”
I was a little surprised when it turned out he didn’t.
So, I explained it to him, and helped him find the map for the local eruv on Google.
One he remembered what an eruv was, heasked me if we could check whether there was one in Rego Park in Queens, where he lived with his wife, Diklah, who, unlike him, was religious.
He asked me why I was moving, and I debated whether or not to tell him the truth. I was looking for a nice Jewish woman who might be interested in another nice Jewish woman like me, and my current neighborhood didn’t seem to have any, so I figured I’d give Brooklyn a try.
“Well, I’m single,” I told him instead, “and I wasn’t really meeting anyone on the Upper West Side….”
After a few more minutes of searching, and plugging information into his web program, Ari explained to me that it was hard to find apartments in this neighborhood in my price range. He asked me whether I’d be willing to share an apartment. “I know this other girl who is looking,” he explained. “But…she doesn’t keep kosher.” He paused to think for a moment before he asked, “Are you religion?”
Truth was, I didn’t want to share an apartment with anyone at all. Well, anyone I wasn’t in a relationship with, anyway. But I decided not to get into that, so I just said, “yes, I’m religious.” As if the eruv thing hadn’t been evidence enough.
“What are you? Orthodox?” He pronounced it with a hard “t”. “Rerform?”
“In between,” I answered, a little amused that he was even asking.
“Ah. Conservative,” he said. The triumph evident in his tone. He paused again. “You know, my wife knows a guy…” he began.
I wanted to laugh. “Are you trying to set me up?” I asked him.
He grinned. “One more to Olam Habah**,” he said.
“No,” I said. “You just want me to find a room-mate so I can afford one of your apartments.” This time, we shared a grin.
When I left his office, I still had no apartment — and I certainly didn’t have a shidduch — but I was pleased to see that it had, at least, stopped raining.
This story is based on an experience I had over the summer while looking for an apartment. I finally typed it up (and read it at an open mic) a few nights ago. Most of this conversation more or less happened, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t quite in this order.
*eruv: a symbolic fence that allows religious Jews to carry outdoors on Shabbat within its boundaries, which they would otherwise be unable to do. On a practical level, it often manifests as a string that is connected to the tops of neighborhood light poles, stretching from one to the next in an unbroken boundary.
**Olam Habah: The Wold to Come, i.e. the closest Judaism gets to the concept of heaven. In general, this line refers to the idea that if someone makes three successful matches (as in, sets up three couples who go on to get married), the matchmaker is guaranteed a place in Olam Habah.
Let me know in the comments if there’s another Jewish/Hebrew term that you’d like me to define.