Bayit, meaning home or house, and meshutaf, meaning common or shared, refers to an apartment building where each unit is individually owned. But while these buildings don’t imply the familiar co-ops most commonly found in New York City, the name may allude to the traditional character of communal life in Israeli cities, where privacy wasn't something to take for granted. This was well portrayed in the 1980s sitcom "Krovim Krovim" (Near and Dear) where the elderly aunt played by Hanna Maron would typically answer any knock on her door by hollering "Pa-TOO-ach" (It's open).
The units of these typical Israeli apartment buildings are sold off individually to resident owners rather than to a single landlord, as is more common in the United States.
Why, then, aren't these buildings referred to as condominiums, you may ask? Long before North Americans began owning their own apartments and the condo craze first set in some 40-odd years ago, private apartment ownership was already the long-established norm in Israel, so the term just didn't stick here. Besides, the word "condo" conjures up thoughts of luxury towers with a full range of amenities like plush lobbies, 24-hour security, high-speed elevators, indoor pools, and exercise rooms, while many of Israel's residential buildings are little more than hovels in comparison, often with just a common staircase and small garden, and sometimes a bomb shelter. The concept is the same, however, with common areas, homeowner associations and committees (vaad bayit), and monthly payments for upkeep.
Some of today's new high-rise complexes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, though, leave nothing to be desired when compared with their most luxurious North American counterparts and are truly condos in every sense of the word.
Shoshana Kordova will resume enlightening and entertaining Word of the Day readers on October 9.
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