Their apartment was way too small. They could touch both sides of the kitchen at the same time with the palms of their hands, without stretching. Their storage closet made a scary noise when they opened the door, like the crammed-in contents that had been shoved in there since their wedding were under pressure and were about to burst forth and swallow the rest of the apartment, like a scene from a horror movie. The kids shared a room that seemed more like a walk-in-closet at their friends’ house across the river in suburbia. The prewar plumbing was clearly showing its age (yes, that would be World War II). The supermarket they shopped in was starting to feel more like a bodega. And their son Yossi was starting to think that pigeons and squirrels were what his parents meant by wildlife.
It was time to leave Riverdale and cross the Hudson River.
It was time for the house in New Jersey.
And so, with the real estate listings sitting on the back seat of their car and the number for a good agent filed on their iPhone, Noah and Ilana set off for Bergenfield to find a house for their brood. They wanted four bedrooms. They wanted a big back yard. They wanted central air conditioning. Baseboard heat. A finished basement. New appliances. The works.
The houses that were listed For Sale by Owner were a tad quirky. The split level on Melrose Avenue had a mirrored ceiling in the master bedroom. The tudor on West Broad Street had a sliding glass door that opened onto a 10-foot drop down to the backyard. (One would like to think there had been a deck there at one time.) The ranch on Anderson Road had a crawl space that was filled with baited mouse traps. It was time to call the real estate agent.
“Dahling!” the agent crooned on the phone. “I’ll be right ovah.”
Her name was Vered Kleinhaus, and she was the co-owner of Vered and Neshama’s, the most popular real estate agency for young marrieds who were leaving the city for the suburban Modern Orthodox Jewish experience (try saying that in one breath!).
“Tell me what you’re looking for, honey,” Vered crooned as she climbed from her Lexus. She shook Ilana’s hand with a loose, regal grasp and then nodded in Noah’s general direction.
Ilana explained their needs as best she could. All the while, Vered nodded appreciatively and kept saying,” Mmm hmm, I see,” with a diffident look.
“Sugah, leave it to me,” Vered said as she swept them into her car. She drove them all the around the neighborhood, pointing out the local shuls, the mikvah, the kosher butcher and the best hair salon.
The houses they saw with Vered were definitely nicer than the ones they had found on their own. She clearly knew her stuff.
The house on Wildrose Avenue was a modest split level. It had four bedrooms, a quaint eat-in kitchen and a small backyard that was nicely landscaped. Ilana and Noah definitely thought it had possibilities. But the real prize was the house on Harcourt Avenue
Now this was a house, with a capital “H.” It had three large bedrooms and a master suite with a 10-foot ceiling. The master bathroom had a Jacuzzi and a steam shower. The kitchen had just been renovated, and it had beautiful stainless steel appliances. The backyard was beautifully landscaped, and the deck was in excellent condition. Ilana already had visions of building her sukkah dead center on its redwood surface, and she was developing plans for where the swing set would go.
“I love it,” Ilana whispered to Noah. It’s what we’ve always dreamed of.”
Vered could smell a sale. “And it’s priced to move. The owners relocated to North Carolina and want to unload it. Isn’t it divine?”
“It’s very nice,” Noah said. “But isn’t it kind of far from the Jewish community?”
“Don’t be silly,” Vered said. It’s not really that far. I sold a house to another couple on Whitman Street just a few weeks ago.”
“And how far away is that?”
“About seven blocks.”
“That’s not so close,” Ilana said. “I don’t want to be the only shomer Shabbat family this far north in Bergenfield.”
“You could be trendsetters!” Vered suggested. “Be bold.”
“We’re really not such bold people,” Noah said.
“You know, sweetie, in this week’s parsha, Yosef tells his brothers to ask Pharaoh if they could live in Goshen because they were shepherds. Clearly Yosef thought his family should live far off from everyone else, in their own space. That would be what you’re doing if you take this beautiful, central-air-conditioned, drop-dead-gorgeous house. You would be choosing Goshen over just some other middle-class part of Egypt.”
“What?” Noah asked.
“Well, you know what I mean. You’ll be living apart from everyone else.”
“I don’t think that was Yosef’s intention when he told his brothers to ask to live in Goshen,” Ilana said.
“Oh, really,” Vered said. “Do tell us what you think it means.”
“I think that Yosef wanted to make sure that his family maintained their unique identity as a nation. He wanted them to stay apart from the corrupting influences of Egyptian society. And he wanted them to keep the values that made them the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov. So he wanted them to live separately from the Egyptians, and together as a group.”
“I think you’re right, honey,” Noah said. “Maybe that house on Wildrose would suit us better. I think that’s closer to the community.”
“Oh, yes,” Vered said. “It’s absolutely crawling with young married Orthos there. And I think it’s much better suited to your needs. Hop back in my car. We’ll pop over there and have another peek.”
“Thank you,” Ilana said, as Vered held the door for her.
“And on the way, let me show you the local swim club,” Vered said. “It’s to die for.”
By Larry Stiefel