Sunday, May 24, 2009

Living with Sam

This is my Zaydie Sam Steinberg (A"H) at his 92nd birthday party at Noah's Ark on the Lower East Side. He was one of the sweetest men I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was a very kind Grandfather too, and he always had a big smile on his face whenever he was near his family.

He was also the best roommate I ever had, and one of the inspirations behind my creation of Diramates.  

So there I was, 22 years old and a Junior Account Executive at one of the most prestigious public relations firms in the Country. I was living in the Westmont on Manhattan's Upper West Side in a room the size of a closet (in reality, it was supposed to be the apartment's pantry) and paying $770 a month for that "honor". On my meager salary (it WAS 1999), I was burning through my Bat Mitzvah savings on things like food and clothing. In truth, I was not happy with my living situation and I needed to find a solution - and fast. Moving back home to live with my parents was not an option, I wanted to be young and single and living in the City! I didn't want to have more than a 15 minute commute from office to apartment, and I certainly didn't want be on my parents time clock when I wanted to spend the evening partying with friends.

My Aunt suggested that I move in with my 88 year old Granfather, who had a two bedroom apartment on Grand and Lewis on the Lower East Side. I wouldn't have to pay rent and it was still 15 minutes from office to apartment on the F train. I was very hesitant. The neighborhood was scary as it was only starting to become trendy in the late 90's, and religiously it was a dying community for Orthodox Jewish singles. Aside from the neighborhood situation, I was afraid I would become my Zaydie's "nursemaid". It was a very selfish attitude, but at 22 I wasn't too mature. I didn't want to end up having to make sure he took his medication, cook him meals or do his laundry just because we lived together. At this stage of my life, my world revolved around my job, the friends I had at my job, and the celebrity studded events I went to. I also had a side job working with the New York Rangers, which meant that on game nights I didn't get home until Midnight. When I wasn't working, I wanted to go out and just have fun. I certainly didn't need to be saddled by an octogenarian roommate.

But, with basically no money in my bank to support my new lifestyle, I had no choice. I bit the bullet and moved downtown during a Manhattan Monsoon in August. It was one of the best decisions of my entire life.

Zaydie was the coolest roommate ever. I was shocked at our compatibility. He didn't expect me to do anything, ever. And because he never expected anything, I was willing to do much more. In the mornings, when he got back from morning services, he would gently rap on my door (read: bang loudly) to make sure I was awake. He always offered me a bite to eat (the man only cooked eggs, but he cooked it well) when I raced out the door, and recommended I wear a sweater or take a jacket if the weather was too cold. When we lived together, I was never late for work (except for the weeks when he was in the hospital with pneumonia) and I always dressed appropriately. 

We liked the same shows, and he would join me in the living room to catch the afternoon football game. When I watched MTV, he would snooze in the chair next to me and wake up during commercials to comment on the program he wasn't really watching.

He was hard of hearing, so my music or TV volume was never an issue for him. He also didn't mind my taste of music, which during the late 90's was dominated by Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Fiona Apple.

I hated to clean the apartment and Zaydie always cleaned before Shabbos. He would make sure to wash the floor in my room too, and he never once complained that I never pitched in to clean the toilet. And every two weeks, on Sunday afternoons, we would go down into the bowels of 550 G, H and I Grand Streets and do our laundry together. We sat in the chairs and watched our clothes go round and round in the dryer, catching up on our previous work weeks and world events, and then we folded our stuff together and piled them into his Bubby cart (which he insisted on pushing). 

There were many Saturday nights when I wouldn't get back home until the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes, I walked in and he was already awake in the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea and getting ready to go open the shul. If I wasn't too tired, I would join him for a few minutes and tell him about my evening. He never once chastized me for coming home too late, never once asked me to report in on where I was going or when I was going to be back. He respected me, and that led to a 2 1/2 year mutually respectable living arrangement.

In truth, it was really nice living with a man, regardless that he was 88 and my Grandfather. It was nice to have someone to light the Chanukah candles with, to say Havdalah for me, and to trap and kill the mouse that terrorized me over Purim. The best part was the companionship, which he provided when I wanted it. When I wanted some alone time, he always understood and never got offended when I went into my room and closed the door. He also never once commented on my phone conversation, even though eavesdropping was inevitable since the walls were pretty thin.

Moving out of the apartment and into my own place was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. And, not because of the steep rent that I ended up paying, but because we had grown so close to each other that I really missed living with him. When I moved into his apartment, I honestly didn't think our living situation would last. I never could have known that an 88 year old and a 22 year old would make compatible roommates. 

Diramates was born out of a difficult life experience. Namely, when I moved from Manhattan to Tel Aviv in the summer of 2006.  I had no family in this Country and very few friends. I ended up making many mistakes, particularly when it came to living arrangements. I'll elaborate further in a later post. 

My vision for Diramates is that for everyone who makes Aliyah or comes to Israel, alone, for an extended period of time - and is looking for a wonderful living situation - that they should find compatible roommates much like myself and my Zaydie were. 

It's hard enough to move someplace alone, especially when the language, people and culture and different and take getting used to. Wouldn't it be a better experience if your home life - your sanctuary - is a good one? And, for those who want to live with roommates, compatibility is absolutely essential and in some cases, the key to a wonderful life experience.

So, welcome to my blog and to Diramates. Check back often as we'll be writing about our own experiences living in Israel, providing advice on how to handle just about any living situation, and weighing in on roommate etiquette. 

We look forward to hearing from you too!