Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Pazzing Gaz," Israeli Style

Shalom, chaverim! I'd originally intended this post to be about how we started Ulpan last week and how it's going so far, but today's fiasco, or "balagan" in Hebrew, was so silly that I wanted to share it with you immediately.

One thing I'd used to crow about, before coming to Israel, was that in Israel, nearly everyone uses solar hot water heaters. In fact in new buildings, all water heaters must be solar. These heaters are usually made as rooftop tanks, one per apartment. They look pretty stubby and grungy, and don't make for breathtaking views over whatever city you happen to be staring at. But they're eco-friendly, and get the job done--more or less.

It was the "less" part that got our attention when we arrived. During the winters up here in the north, it can be rainy and cold and grey for several months in a row. If there isn't enough sun to get your water as hot as you'd like it, then you have two choices. You can struggle along with tepid (to downright cool) water, or you can flip a switch and pay for electricity to heat up the water for you. This can get very expensive to run all day, so people usually set a timer so they can have hot water in the morning or evenings for bathing, and then flip it on manually if they need hot water some other time. Our heater took about twenty minutes to heat up the water, though, so we had to plan ahead.

This was not too onerous, really: you can get used to it if you are willing to live in a fairly routinized way, and are able to be patient for twenty minutes if you have to break your routine. But when we went to the amusingly named gas company "Paz Gaz" (I kid you not!) to get the gas for our new stove hooked up, they told us that for 30 NIS a month (about USD $8), we could rent a machine that would use natural gas to keep the water hot 24/7. If the solar hot water heater kept the water hot enough, fine. But if the temperature dropped below X degrees, the gas heater would kick in and get the water up to the right temperature. Once the solar-heated water got back to the correct temperature, the machine would automatically turn off. So you had the best of both worlds, really, with this system: the sun did most of the work, but natural gas was there to kick in if, and only if, necessary. We bit, and signed the papers to have the machine installed.

We signed these papers about the first week we arrived, which was just over a month ago. We were told then that the installers would call within the week to install the machine. Finally, last week, we were told they would arrive this Friday to do the job. Of course, when we were leaving Ulpan this morning (Tuesday), we got a call saying "hey, we're here at your apartment to install the machine. Where the heck are you?"

After rushing home and letting them in, the two fellows from Paz Gaz got to work. What happened next was something that I was vaguely aware of, given that I was hiding in the bedroom like a scared cat. (This is my default selection whenever workmen are in the house.) But Elul saw it all, and when he told me about it, I asked him if he would write it up so I could include it here. I just took the pictures as proof that this really happened!

Elul writes:

"The installers from the gas company needed to use their power drill to install our new on-demand hot water heater on the roof. In a combination of bad Hebrew and sign language, one of the pair asked me to plug in a long extension cord so his partner could power up the drill. The extension cord was old and a little frayed, but I figured it was one they used all the time so it would be okay. Well, when I plugged it in, sparks flew everywhere, then there was a small explosion, and the power in the apartment went dead!

"We checked the cirucuit breaker box to see which ones had flipped off, but miraculously they were all still on! This meant one thing, the main fuse, which protects the circuit breakers from a major power surge, had blown. The installer scurried up his ladder to the fuse box mounted near the ceiling in the main hallway and pulled out the fuse to our apartment. It was fried! He pried it apart and a substance like sand poured out of it along with a blackened and melted wire (the fried fuse).  
Exhibit A: A piece of frayed extension cord, abandoned in the hallway like a trollop after a one-night stand

"Undaunted, the guy swoops up from the floor a superfluous roll of wire he had with him, snips a short piece off it, strips the insulation, and inserts the bare wire in the fuse casing. He snaps the ends of the casing back on and inserts the reconstructed fuse in the neighbor's fuse slot (he had already inserted their fuse into our slot to make sure that's what was causing the problem...it was). Voila! Power back on...serious fire hazard!   

Exhibit B: Superfluous Roll of Wire Used for Unsafely "Solving" Neighbor's Blown Fuse Problem
"He then similarly rigged the offending extension cord with makeshift wires, so it would work again. And believe or not, it's now powering the drill, even as I write this."

Even more incredibly, the dear guys from Paz Gaz, who left a giant track of mud and water through the apartment, by the way, also forgot to close the hatchdoor leading from our top floor apartment hallway up to the roof. In other words, we now have an open-air skylight just above our apartment's front door. Of course, we're due for a massive rainstorm tonight and  heavy rains for the rest of the week, and when Elul called, the Paz Gaz men refused to come back tonight to close the hatch. "Tomorrow, we come tomorrow, tomorrow morning, maybe 8 or 9 o'clock," one of them promised. I'll keep you posted on how long it takes them to come back!

Let's now sing "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head"...because they sure as heck will!
Still, all is not lost here at 20 Aliyah Street, with respect to home improvements. Last week, Elul and I were walking to the grocery store and I spotted a treasure trove of abandonded furniture on the sidewalk. I don't recommend picking up soft furnishings, e.g. sofas, futons, mattresses, etc. But we were in need of a second nightstand, and this little darling (not so little, actually) chest of drawers had, er, "potential." The funniest part of the process was our hauling that thing down the street, and up three flights of stairs. Funny for spectators, that is--not so much for us!

The frame. Lots of natural woodgrain showing...all the way down through the laminate to the plywood!
Oh dear. Well, at least all the drawers were all there...
Well, with Elul's rapidly improving Handyman Hebrew, he managed to get the right type of wood filler, sandpaper, paint, and new hardware. It may not win any awards on "Design Star," but in the end it cost us a total of about USD $20 in supplies and tools, and I now have an extremely functional and large nightstand. Woot!

Giant, semi-homemade nightstand. Pretty slick, huh?

Now I have plenty of room for my reading glasses, ear plugs, Dan Silva spy novels, "Teach Yourself Hebrew" books, and my strap-on Petzel. And hey, if any of you happen to be dirty-minded Yiddish speakers, a Petzel in this instance is a headlamp-on-a-headband, to be used for reading and while biking or camping in perfect nerdy innocence...not what you think it is! Ha ha ha!

Finally, I wanted to add that one of the joys of blogging is that you can justify spending hours surfing the internet, all in the name of "doing research for my blog, honey." In doing so, you can find pure evidence that other people on this earth are doing very peculiar things with their time. For example, I never would have imagined that someone would take a mildly amusing English television sketch called "Dinner for One," and re-create it using animated Lego characters. If you have nine minutes of life you don't mind sparing, and feel like wandering into an alternate universe where a German (?) man imitates a British actor imitating invisible guests while getting progressively more drunk, then this video is for you!


Have a good week, chaverim! And, as usual, if you can't see the pictures or the video I'm referring to, just go to www.movingtonahariya.blogspot.com and you should be able to see them there.


  1. Re Dinner for One
    is the original. I've seen it a coupla times in last 20 years as it is always on German TV around New Year when we've been visiting relatives there. See also
    or in Wikipedia.

    1. Thanks, Hans! I've seen the original. Apparently the playing of this sketch on TV at New Year's is also very common in the Nordic countries as well. The Lego version just blows my mind, though!

  2. Really loved the part about the snap-on. Havent heard Petzel used in many many moons. Thanx for the great chuckle

  3. Using Solar water heater has a positive impact on the environment by reducing the use of nonrenewable energy sources to heat water, such as gas, coal, oil or nuclear power.
    Solar Water Heater India


Thank you for reading my blog. I am interested in your comments, but I will delete anything that is either spam or just plain nasty. Please do not use the comments forum as a political or religious soapbox--there are SO many other online forums for those kinds of tedious arguments!