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Firetrucks at my window
photo by Rhonda Spivak

photo by Rhonda Spivak

Israeli firefighter
photo by Rhonda Spivak

the soot on my hand after running down the stairs.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Special Report from Israel: My Building is on Fire !

by Rhonda Spivak, Jan 25, 2013

After coming to Israel in the midst of a storm to find damage to my apartment due to the winds and rains then losing my telephone and internet connection, and then water stoppages, I thought that I had had enough excitement for one trip.  But I was wrong.                                                                              

It happened on Thursday Jan 24th, just as I was emailing Web Wizards to send out the last edition of the Winnipeg Jewish Review. I started to notice a smell in my apartment, a burnt rubber kind of smell. I went around and checked all the electrical outlets to determine if I saw anything unusual. But I couldn't find any source from within the apartment for the smell.

Then I opened the front door and realized that the burnt smell was much stronger in the hallway of the building. I dashed to my neighbor's apartment and their son answered, agreeing that there was a definite problem. He said he had called his father who was on the Va'ad Habayit (the tenant's committee) and that his father was calling to make sure things were looked after. I tried to call the building manager but he wasn't in. I figured if there was a real problem my neighbor's son would tell me.

I did briefly think about leaving the building but concluded I didn't want to brave the burnt smell and charge down four flights of stairs. I decided against using the elevator, wondering if it was possibly the source of the problem, thinking maybe there had been some sort of electrical problem with it.

I dashed back to my apartment and swung the door shut quickly so the smell wouldn't creep in, any more than it  had already. Then for the next 5-10 minutes I was on line emailing Web Wizards back and forth to ensure last week's edition of this publication went out. I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I more or less forgot about the smell until I started hearing some noise from out on the street.

I opened my large living room window and looked down onto the street to find that there were four fire trucks, lights flashing and teams of firemen swarming my building.


Then I realized that for sure there must be some kind of fire in my building.


From the fourth floor I shouted out to the firemen out on the street, to see what was going on. "Is there a fire here? Should I leave the building?"

No one answered. So I just kept shouting louder and louder? (You'd think that it’s a reasonable thing to expect that one of the firemen might answer my calls?). Four floors was kind of a long way to jump, I figured.


When I didn’t get an answer from the firemen I dashed to my neighbor's to speak to their son who had answered ten minutes earlier--but there was no answer. (Then I began thinking that the son probably didn't have to put out an internet publication, so somewhere in the last ten minutes he had been smart enough to evacuate the building !)

I ran back to my window screaming down to the firemen loudly enough that one of them responded. "It’s ok now. The fire's over," he said.


I got my camera to take photos of the fire trucks, and then it dawned on me that just in case this one fireman who had finally answered me was wrong I better get out of the building.


I ran down the stairs (partly in the dark because the lights only stay on for enough time to get down a flight before they automatically go off again and you need to find the light switch on another floor to turn them on again. This is a quaint Israeli system that's great for conserving energy but not very effective if you are trying to escape a fire).


As I was running down the stairs in the dark, I heard voices from the back of the building arguing over how the fire started.


I got outside, out of breath, just in time to speak to a fireman. He explains to me that a workman had been working on some sort of pipe at the back of the building and cut the pipe which caused sparks. The workman left, without noticing the sparks and somehow after eight hours the fire started smoldering and the smoke rose.


"But when we got the phone call to come here, we were told the smell was coming from the area near the back of the building where there is gas, so we thought it was a gas leak and were afraid that the whole building could be on fire and we'd have to evacuate everyone. That's why we came with all the fire trucks," the fireman said.


As he left, I returned to my apartment, opened the window to air it out and began thinking that I should let my readers know that when they read the publication, it really is "HOT OFF THE PRESS"


And speaking of HOT, (HOT is the company that supplies my phone, internet and television service) since the HOT technician came to fix my television, I have noticed that the television has supernatural powers.  At various times of the day, with no apparent pattern that I can discern, the television turns itself on.


The first time it happened it was the middle of the night and I got up to see what the noise was to find that the TV was on, even though I was certain I had shut it off. I began wondering if somehow someone had been in my apartment, but that is not the case. It has happened in the middle of the day when I have been in the room to see it happen before my very eyes and then at other times the TV just shuts itself off. Since I don't believe in ghosts, I don't know what to make of it, and if I call HOT, I am sure they won't believe me. Even if they send out another HOT technician, it  supernatural thing probably won't happen when the technician is here.


Guess what. While writing this last sentence, the TV again just turned itself on.

After several days of this, I have finally made a decision that when the television turns itself on,  it is "beshert", and it means I should stop what I am doing and watch it.


So forgive me, I will sign off here....

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.