by Brian on March 28, 2008

in Only in Israel

Last week, we ran out of hot water. Well, we didn’t actually run out. But through a convergence of bad luck, all our hot water heating devices broke down simultaneously, leaving us hot waterless with Shabbat coming and five Blums needing to take their pre-sundown showers.

Now, I’m sure a “real” Israeli family would just suck it up and plunge feet first into the icy water. But we’re more weenies than sabras. Maybe if we’d served in the army we’d be tougher. But 16-year-old Amir’s still a year and a half away from that and his father was never called up.

We had to figure out a solution…and fast.

First some history. What happened is this: We generally use our gas heater which gives us instantaneous hot water for as long as we want.

The gas heater wasn’t broken but it was getting temperamental. So we called the gas heater repair people. A mild mannered repairperson named Alon arrived on Wednesday and began taking our unit apart. He quickly found the problem. The gas jets were old and needed to be replaced. He wanted to take the troublesome part with him.

But how will we take showers on Thursday? I asked. Don’t worry, Alon replied. I’ll have it back to you tomorrow morning.

Trusting immigrant that I am, I let him walk off with our ailing jets. On Thursday morning, a secretary from gas company called. The man who fixes the jets wasn’t in today. They could only have it back to us on Friday.

While inconvenient, we always had Plan B. Now, nearly every apartment in Israel has a dud shemesh – a solar water heater. In a country where unleaded gasoline was only mandated a few years ago, it’s one of the few environmentally friendly innovations Israel has implemented, and one that makes sense in a country which has sunny cloudless days 9 months out of the year.

The only problem was that it was winter and cloudy. The sun peeked through enough to give us one shower’s worth of warm, not hot, water.

Off we went to Plan C: we have an electric heater which boils the water on exactly these kinds of cloudy days. We flipped the switch and waited an hour. Nothing. We waited another hour. Still no hot water. We called the electrician. He came and said we needed to call a plumber. The plumber was booked.

The last time I took a cold shower was when I was traveling in Thailand 11 years ago. The days were 105 degrees with 200% humidity. This was not one of those times.

So to summarize our story so far: we had no gas, no solar and no electric heat. It was precisely at this moment of bleak realization that the gas people called back. The jet fixer wasn’t coming in today either. And since they don’t work on Shabbat, Sunday was the earliest they could repair our unit. And, the secretary added, it might not work at all in which case they’d be glad to sell us a brand new unit for the low price of $1500.

I started to scream into the phone. “This is unacceptable,” I wailed. “You’re leaving us without hot water for 4 days. What kind of customer service is this?”

For some reason I thought raising my voice was the proper Israeli response. After all, it works in the supermarket and at the falafel stand.

The secretary didn’t blink (well I don’t think she did, it was over the phone). “You have no choice,” she said in a calm monotone. “Sunday, that’s the best I can do.”

It was a long cold Shabbat, but when Sunday finally arrived, the gas guy came with the fixed part. We weren’t so lucky with the plumber. It took him a week to figure out that the wires weren’t connected properly on our dud.

I’d like to say that our frustrating experience was typically Israeli. But I’ve heard from friends overseas that dealing with plumbers and electricians and gas repairmen can be trying no matter where you are in the world.

In any case, hot water finally flows freely in our house. It may take a little longer to cool down from our heated tempers. Next time all the hot water heating options break down simultaneously, though…I’m flying to Thailand.

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