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The Buildings

In the building in Bnei Brak another floor has been added to the structure, using corrugated aluminum sheets. There is a thin scaffolding reaching up along the side of the building, even up to the new roof—this is actually an exposed elevator shaft. From the floor below the aluminum penthouse there are scorch marks from a fire, black smoke stains streaking out from an A/C unit. Around the corner, a strange exhaust vent is wedged out of a window frame, so it can breathe out. There are mirpesot on the two lower floors that are also sheet metal add-ons, suspended in place by scaffolds. The windows on the first two floors are all blocked up with gates and privacy glass, but on the upper floors some openings are exposed, with gates that let the empty gray space inside show through, and where sometimes you can spot a plastic chair or a hand. An entire corner of the second floor seems to have been rebuilt with cinder blocks. From the front of the building it appears that this is a bakery; there are long racks for cooling baked goods set up along the street and boxes of yellow brown buns. There is no front door to the building, but there is an opening bay, where CDs dangle by threads as wards. I can’t imagine what kind of pain this place enables.

What I can imagine is that any number of building and safety violations are going on inside that building. That the people who work there are in danger because of it. I can also imagine that there are forces at work that keep buildings like this from being shut down. More than just the general lack of follow through or competence on the part of the building inspectors. That are ways to have things be ignored. That there are systems in place to make sure that whatever is wrong with this building remains that way. Contrast this reality with the ease that building violations by Arabs are punished in the West Bank. Here is the story of one family, with eight kids, whose home was destroyed by government action. It was made mostly from the same corrugated aluminum as the added floors on the bakery.

Around the corner from my house in the middle of Tel Aviv there is a strange outcropping. It is above street level, surrounded by an old brick wall on the top of which wild growth overhangs. If you circle around the corner and walk uphill, you will find a parking lot, and starting across the parking lot, the houses that the wall surrounds. They are ramshackle little one-story bungalows with terracotta shingle roofs. A street pattern within this enclave seems completely organic to itself and at odds with the city, at the intersection of two major streets. This was once Summeil, or Mas'udiyeh. The original inhabitants of the village were expelled in 1948, and the homes now belong to poor families that were settled there afterwards. The city is currently trying to force those families out. A new luxury apartment building is going up where just a few months ago a flower nursery stood in its place. There is already a massive hole in the ground for the foundation. Something which, after the tower of glass rises up, no one will ever see.

It is so hard to do things properly. Yihiyey b’seder they say here, “it will be okay.” The concrete was made of sand, but yihiyey b’seder. The welder only welded half of the beam in place above the entryway to the school, but yihiyey b’seder. It’s by all accounts a yihiyey b’seder culture. The building where I live now has severe structural problems. It most likely should be uninhabitable, but the same should go for so many buildings in Tel Aviv. They have a program here called TAMA 38, where old buildings can be thoroughly earthquake-proofed by company that finances the complete reconstruction of the building from the foundations up to the roof—all the company asks for in exchange is that they own the new penthouse apartment they will add to the structure. All it means is that they get to become your new neighbor. Eventually companies like these will have a stake in every residence in the city. Eventually, they will sit on every co-op board. Our building has been in the process of getting approval for this to begin for more than ten years. Not too long ago we were informed about a change in the plans for our building’s TAMA: the latest proposal calls for adding a pool on the roof.

Nothing comes together easy; everything is built on a shaky foundation, but yihiyey b’seder. There is a fault line below us here, a crack in the way we are. It cannot hold forever, but yihiyey b’seder.

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