This week we had our first guests for Shabbos – I asked dh to invite a family of six that moved here three days before us, but they weren’t available this week. (They’re coming for lunch next week.) He took the initiative of inviting a lovely couple, probably in their mid forties, who are German and Ukranian, respectively. It was interestingly coincidental that we had them this particular week, when dd16 invited a friend born in the Ukraine and raised in Germany, to spend Shabbos with us!
Our meal was a mixture of English and Hebrew – the husband speaks English, and the wife understands it – and it was nice to get to know them. They told us how wonderful our kids are, and when the meal was over, dd15 commented to me on how quiet the meal was. Sometimes meals are lots more lively but today was definitely sedate!
Dh went out to the porch after the meal to learn with dd15, when I suddenly heard shouting. It was our downstairs neighbor, shouting at us from his yard down below for being so noisy. He was ranting and raving about how we make noise nonstop, how our children aren’t a blessing but a siyud (sp?- siyut?) – neither dh nor I knew what this meant, but I asked an Israeli later that day who doesn’t speak English, and was told it’s a very harsh insult along the lines of a terrible tragedy. This was, well, a little surprising to me.
When we lived in Baltimore, our neighborhood was about 50/50 Jewish/African American, and our non-Jewish neighbors all spoke very well of our children, even telling me they’d miss seeing the kids around when we moved! Another non-Jewish couple, who generally oppose large families, told us we should have more since they were so impressed with our children (and this was when we had nine already!).
There’s no way a large family (or even small family) is going to be silent, but for a family our size we’re on the quiet side and I try to be on top of the kids when it comes to being considerate of neighbors and being quiet. I didn’t expect our neighbors to actively be appreciative that the kids take off their shoes in the house, play quietly during 2- 4 pm every day (national quiet hours), whisper or speak in a low voice when in the building hallway coming upstairs, not play with balls, marbles, push cars, or anything else noisy at any time in the apartment, but this reaction seemed unreasonable to me, to put it mildly.
About a half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. I glanced out the peephole and was taken aback to see two uniformed policemen waiting there. I opened the door and welcomed them inside, and they told me they had received a complaint about our excessive noise. They said the caller complained that we’re shuffling chairs around nonstop from 6 am, we have a synagogue in our house, and we’re disturbing the peace, that we had at least twenty extra people in our house that day. The officer doing the talking went on and on about how I have to understand that people work hard all week and deserve a break on their day off, and I have to make an effort to have peaceable relationships with my neighbors. It was as if he’d already decided we were guilty before he got inside, or maybe it was when we saw we were religious. Fortunately, the house was very clean and quiet when they walked in, with kids all either resting, playing cards, or reading books.
I told him that my kids aren’t even awake that early, that we are very careful about quiet hours and as careful as possible during the rest of the day, too. I explained that I realized that when one of the kids stacked the plastic chairs after the meal (it took about two minutes), it was too loud and we’ll be more careful about that in the future. But, I continued, we don’t have a synagogue in our house and rather than the crowd they claimed we were hosting, only had a middle aged couple as guests. It seems that when my husband, son, and guest sang three Shabbos songs together, this upset my neighbor and was what prompted his complaint about our in-home ‘synagogue’.
As far as trying to be peaceable, I pointed out to the policemen that they didn’t get calls from me when these neighbors are playing music until 1 am (or later), having loud parties and barbeques late in the evening – one has to be willing to close their eyes to annoyances for the sake of being a good neighbor. I thought to myself that it was ironic that this woman, who told me the first morning we were here that I would be bothered by other people not doing things according to my liking, was reflecting the kind of person she was with her comments.
The reality notwithstanding, the policeman warned us that if they continued to receive complaints about us, they’d ticket us at 350 shekels the first time, with increasing fines each time they came, and once they received a certain amount of complaints, it would be very bad for us because then we’d be labeled a problematic address. I asked what happened to the person who called in with unsubstantiated complaints, and he told me that he can’t say the caller was wrong – there wasn’t a synagogue there right then, but maybe I was the one lying about it.
No, this really isn’t the nicest welcome to the building! I know that this neighbor had complained about us to at least two neighbors within a week of us moving in (and probably a lot more), because two people told us about it; they told her we’re a nice family and to leave us alone. One of these was a neighbor in my building, and explained that they’re very difficult people and she herself had suffered a lot from these neighbors over the past twenty years. This person came to speak to me when the neighbor complained that by leaving a stroller in the corner of the wide and spacious entryway, I blocked her ability to get to her front door when she was carrying groceries. If you saw my building, you’d see how ludicrous this was, but the same unhappy neighbor took matters into her own hands by pushing my stroller outside the building because she was so annoyed – all of two times that I left it there in the first three weeks we were here (usually I bring it up a flight of stairs with me).
I met the husband the first Sunday morning we were here, when he knocked on our door and told me that he could hear by the way the water was running that we had a burst pipe, and he shut off our water. Dd16 was frustrated since she was in the shower when he shut off the water, and dh checked it when he got home and said it was nonsense, there was nothing wrong and he suspected the person didn’t do it from a desire to help, but I couldn’t imagine someone would maliciously shut off our water just because the sound of it going through the pipes was too loud.
Then last week, my littles threw several olive pits in their yard on Shabbos before I realized what they were doing. I gave them a stern talking to and said after Shabbos we’d go down, apologize, and pick them up. But we didn’t have time for that, since the father threw them back onto our porch – yes, all five of the pits! I understood why he would feel frustrated, even though I didn’t think it was the most mature way to handle it. But all in all, I was grateful that though they made it clear they weren’t happy we are living here, they weren’t constantly knocking at our door to complain.
Back to my talk with the woman asked to tell me to keep the stroller out of the entry (she’s the head of the building housing commitee) – I told her I realized it was probably hard for our neighbors to have a big family above them after being used to a small and quiet family (a couple, grandmother, and a young girl). She informed me that they had bitterly disliked the last people, that it was a ‘catastrophe’ – they wouldn’t talk to each other, and the downstairs neighbors had constantly complained about the noise level of this family as well. I couldn’t imagine this family could have made much noise; I remembered that the retired policewoman I met last week mentioned she had once been called to my apartment with a complaint, and I didn’t want to pursue it since I thought it might be gossip. But after today, I strongly suspect that these neighbors were the ones who called the police on that family as well.
Later in the afternoon I went to the park, where I spoke with someone who lived here before the last family – I wanted to know if she had ever had any difficulties. Oh, yes, she immediately said, they suffered terribly (interesting that both people used the term suffering to describe their experience) from these neighbors, they knocked at her door frequently to complain (though never called the police), they were bothered by little noises, even normal sounds of people living there. The first thing her kids did when they moved to their own house was to loudly push the chairs back and forth in place, as a reaction to having been so constrained about every sound they made for so long, and relief that they didn’t have to worry about that anymore. She told me to realize I’m not dealing with normal or reasonable people, and that there’s nothing I’m going to be able to do to make them happy.
Amazingly, I don’t feel overly bothered about all of this. I tend to get very uptight about bothering people, and tried very hard (though unsuccessfully) to find a ground level apartment so that I wouldn’t have to worry about downstairs neighbors, but in this case, the reactions to us have been so extreme that it’s hard to be too upset about them. It’s almost amusing, except that it’s not. I’ll try to find a solution to the plastic chairs that we use to supplement our regular dining room chairs, since they do make more noise when people sit in them and shift their position than wood chairs.
But I can’t make my kids or myself crazy about this – and the kids are already feeling anxious after seeing the police here. Today ds2 started to cry, and ds5 told him, not as a threat but from alarm, to stop or the police would come. Ds4 ran across the room in bare feet later in the evening, and when I asked him to walk quietly, he worriedly asked me if the police would come if he ran. It’s hard not to feel somewhat anxious, knowing someone can call the police on you, and the police are totally subjective about determining if there’s a basis for the complaint – they stand outside listening before coming into the house (fun to picture police officers standing around listening when you don’t know they’re there!), and it’s up to them to determine if your noise level is reasonable or not.
I plan to call my new friend, the retired police officer, and ask her if there’s anything I can do to alleviate this issue from a police standpoint. I’d love it if she had enough pull in the department to tell them that the real problem is the people continually making the calls. But even if that’s not realistic, I’d like to get her suggestions on the best way to handle this.