The Housewarming Party

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26 Oct 2006

Moving into a new apartment is never easy. Therefore, when, over twenty two years ago, we moved into our home just a few days after Sukkot, I was, to put it mildly, absolutely exhausted. It was such a deep, all-encompassing fatigue that it had crept into my bones, bringing aches and pains to body parts that I never even knew existed and, brought tears to my eyes at the slightest provocation. I had reached my physical and emotional limit and I desperately needed the deep relaxation of Shabbos.

My in-laws were scheduled to arrive on Tuesday, and I was determined to make sure that everything would be perfect – the pictures on the walls, the clothes in the closets – before they set foot in our new home. I refused to allow myself the luxury of “just organizing the necessities.” After a week of packing, moving, and then unpacking, I was looking forward to a spending Shabbos in bed, before attempting to be a hostess par excellence.

We finished the meal early on Friday night. I quickly put the children to bed and collapsed on the couch.

It was Parshas Noach. I could hear the rain pounding against the windowpanes. The wind was howling. But inside, in our new home, it was toasty warm. Glad that we had moved out of our previous cold and drafty apartment, I snuggled under my down feather quilt and, almost instantaneously, fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up several hours later. I was in that hazy half- conscious state; my eyes were still closed and I was dreaming of Noach’s ark and imagined the sound of rushing water. Suddenly I woke up with a start. It was no dream. I really was hearing the sound of rushing water.

I quickly jumped off the sofa and landed in a pool of water. It was so deep that it completely covered my ankle. I looked around the house in amazement. There was water everywhere, and it was rising quickly!

I later learned that our porch drain was clogged. We were the last porch on the sewage line, so all the porches of the entire building drained through our porch. But now, instead of draining into the sewage pipe, the water was rising so rapidly that it had forced the porch door open and rushed into our home.

I tried waking my husband, but he was even more exhausted that I was. He opened one eye and mumbled, “Try to get more sleep. Everything will be all right by the morning,” before turning over and going back to sleep. I wasn’t convinced

Instead, I donned my winter boots, grabbed my sponja stick, and started pushing the water out the front door. The stairwell soon resembled a miniature waterfall.

When my husband woke up two hours later to daven with the sunrise minyan, the house was dry and I could barely stand. “Spend the rest of the day in bed,” he ordered. “I’ll take care of everything when I return home.” He securely closed the porch door and placed a few heavy towels underneath it to prevent the water from coming back in.

But an hour later, I once again woke up to the sound of rushing water. I spent the next two hours pushing water out the front door, while my children sat safely perched on the dining room table, laughing at my silly antics. By the time my husband returned from shul, the house was almost dry and we were actually able to enjoy our Shabbos meal.

We spent that entire Shabbos rotating between collapsing in bed, totally exhausted, and pushing water out the front door. When neighbors, who we had never met before, came to see what they could do to help, they were greeted with a sponja stick and told to push.

We had barely finished making havdalah when the doorbell started ringing. The upstairs neighbor had already called a plumber. He was willing (for a very hefty fee) to make an emergency call and fix our drain. Another neighbor appeared with two electric heaters, to get the dampness out of our soaking wet closets. Several women offered to dry our wet blankets and clothes in their dryers. Others arrived armed with rags and sponja sticks to finish up the job that my husband and I had been doing that entire day. Someone else appeared with hot tea and cake, and ordered us to relax on the sofa while everyone else went to work wiping up the last of the puddles and loading sopping wet clothes into the dryer.

It wasn’t exactly the type of welcome that I was expecting, but it certainly was a housewarming party – a housewarming party that warmed my soul. It was the beginning of a relationship with my neighbors which, after over twenty two years of living in my home I can only describe as magnificent, and very, very precious. We were flooded (pun intended) with kindness and thoughtfulness that I have never been able to properly reciprocate, and to which I will be eternally grateful.

And yes, by the time my in-laws arrived, other than a damp closet and a few water stains everything really did look picture perfect – except for me. I was red-eyed and exhausted.

Debbie Shapiro is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem with her family. She is presently writing the biography of the late Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.