Waiting for the Bulldozers

Shlomo Taizi, known as Popeye, is helpless in face of the bulldozers that will come to destroy his living quarters at the Maccabi swimming pool in Ra'anana.

For about 30 years the mentally impaired Taizi, 56, worked at maintenance and errands at the pool, living in a small room that was allotted to him there. A few months ago his bosses informed him that he had to move his belongings out of the room and leave by August 1, because they had sold the land to a contractor who is planning to demolish the facility.

Taizi says that they have not promised him severance pay for his many years of work there.

On Thursday, Taizi's small room was full of belongings. The single bed against the wall was still made up with sheets, the cupboards were stuffed with clothing and in a corner there was an improvised kitchenette with a microwave oven and electric burners he received as a gift from his brother.

"I'm sad," said Taizi. "Is this how they're throwing me out into the street like a dog? They tell me they are knocking down the place. They told me: 'We are evacuating the place and a contractor will come with a bulldozer to demolish it,'" he relates, "so I said, 'Take me out, give me work, give me another room so I will have somewhere to sleep.' They told me: 'You're not entitled.'"

Taizi displays the place where he worked for most of his years. The children's joyous cries have long been a distant memory: There is no water in the pool, the lawns have reverted to thorns and playground equipment lies overturned on the ground. "I worked here from the morning until 10 at night, cleaning the corridors, the showers and the toilets, folding chairs, collecting all the garbage, going to their accountant on foot in this heat," he related.

He claims that for his work he received about NIS 1,000 a month and the right to live there.

At Maccabi they say otherwise. "Shlomo doesn't have an apartment here. It isn't anything like an apartment - it's a place where he would rest when he wasn't working," says the secretary of Maccabi Ra'anana, Rafi Ben Ezra. According to Ben Ezra, "If he came in here at night, that's very grave and we are not responsible for that."

Ben Ezra's response seems disingenuous to a number of residents of the city. Hila Hefetz, 27, who grew up in Ra'anana and worked at the kiosk Taizi came to every day, says: "Everyone in town knows that he lived at the swimming pool."

Ben Ezra also claims that Maccabi never fired Taizi: "I sat with him a few days ago and told him we have to leave. I said to him: 'We aren't firing you. You'll come with us to our new office - we'll give you a room and a desk of your own there. There you'll just go to the bank and the post office.' He said: 'I'm tired, I'm not continuing with you.'"

Taizi denies this: "He told me: 'You have to leave. Go to your mother. I don't know where you will live.' That's all. He didn't tell me to keep working. He is lying."

The lawyer who is representing Taizi, Eliram Bakal, says that Taizi was told he could continue working only after his family contacted Maccabi to ensure his rights. Ben Ezra insists: "We deserve a huge Israel Prize for what we have done for this person."

Bakal protests: "Employing a mentally impaired person is not a lofty act that exempts Maccabi from its legal obligations." According to him, "This person did real work that otherwise would have cost them more."

Yesterday, Bakal secured a court order allowing Taizi to stay put for ten more days, but the threat of evacuation remains. Bakal is demanding that Maccabi pays Taizi compensation, taking into account the worth of the living quarters he received.

Taizi does have somewhere to go to - his elderly mother's home in Ra'anana, but he does not want to go there. It is only in his room at the pool that he feels at home. "My mother is religious," he explains. "I want to respect my mother but on the Sabbath I smoke, I listen to the radio and I watch television."