"So, Ernest, what’s going on with the building?" This time, Suzanne wasn’t hiding her impatience. How many times was she supposed to ask him about this and hear that it wasn’t moving ahead?
For over a year now, he’d been saying, "I have buyers, but they want permits which I still don’t have," so the whole thing had been delayed and delayed… They needed money; the building was standing empty, waiting to pass into the hands of buyers who’d already signed a "memorandum of understanding," but since then – no progress.
"How about doing something about it instead of just talking?" Suzanne pressed on. Now Ernest was getting annoyed.
"Go and take a look at the blue folder on my desk,” he said. “A million documents, I'm telling you, a million! And I still don't have everything needed."
“When something is important to you, you can get it moving overnight” Suzanne insisted. “Just give it one full day, work on it as hard as you can and get be done with it. How long can a sale of a single building take?"
Ernest brought the file and tossed it toward his querulous wife. “I’ve spent more time than you know working on this file,” he said bitterly. “And every time I thought I was finished, fifty new complications sprang up. It’s like the Plague of Frogs in Pharaoh's Egypt. The Egyptians would whack the frogs with sticks, and instead of hordes of new frogs would appear. It’s crazy. The law here in France is very strict about these matters, and the bureaucrats are incredibly stubborn. They must be trained to put obstacles in front of everyone who applies for a permit. There's no other explanation."
Suzanne shrugged her shoulders dismissively. Documents! Documents! Big deal! Every day thousands of buildings were brought and sold in France. Why should their poor building be stuck in limbo like this?
She didn’t say a word, but her body language was loud and clear. "Are five hundred thousand dollars worth nothing to you?! Is my office worth nothing to you? Do I have to sacrifice it on this altar?!"
Had she become involved in the business, everything would have been different, but even Suzanne finally gave up. In France, as in Israel, no prudent buyer will purchase a building without valid permits from the Office of Land Registry. But unlike Israel, no governmental permit is ever provided for a building which deviates from the urban building scheme. Even the tiniest internal changes can disqualify a building from getting the long-awaited approval. And here, in the building inherited from her parents, God rest their souls, many changes had been made.
It was a four-story building with two apartments on each floor. Many tenants had lived in each of the apartments over the years, and internal changes had been done according to their needs. Now, it turned out that restoring the building to its original form was a tricky business indeed. At first, Ernest thought that cosmetic changes would do.
He carried them out quickly and went to ask the Land Administration for the required permits. The permits were not granted. Then Ernest hired a contractor to carry out the restoration, precisely according to the original sketches. He never thought the electrical wiring would also have to be changed back to its original form. His application was once again rejected.
In the next try, he hired a professional who specialized in preparing houses to meet the standards of the Office of Land Registry. That contractor was following the provisions rigorously, but Ernest then realized that he was only at the beginning of all the hurdles. Electrical permits, gas permits, heating system permits, appraisal and engineer approvals, certification of payment of old municipal debts, qualified engineer's permits, construction permits and… and new requirements popped up daily.
"I can’t get through this,” Ernest told his wife. “Do you want to give it a shot?" Suzanne decided to give it another try.
The foot-dragging was like a fish bone stuck in her throat, which could neither be swallowed nor spat out. Every day Ernest was saying that as soon as the building passed inspection, they would sell it at a great price. But every passing day only made the situation worse. If this building got a bad reputation, nobody would want to buy it. Buying real estate is like a second marriage – the same rules apply. Suzanne girded herself with a lot of patience and took on the project, putting aside her other urgent business.
She started making the rounds of municipal offices and government agencies, a real estate consultant and a private attorney… Everywhere she was asked to sign a series of documents. What they were for, she didn’t know; she’d stopped asking. She felt like she was about to drown in a sea of paperwork. "I took the project a few huge steps forward," she said one day to Ernest, exhausted. "Huge steps, but I’m worn out. I’ve got no more energy for this. It’s your turn again now!”
Ernest had to take the case once again. Again, the uphill battle began: meetings in the offices of unsympathetic officials, hours of waiting, lost work days, and aggravations.
Every time he submitted a document, he was told about a change in procedure, unfilled sections, and more papers to be signed. He thought he was going crazy.
"That’s it! I can’t take another day of this! It will never end, never! My business is suffering, I’ve spent my last reserves of energy, and today I received a list of some more papers they want me to prepare... I'm not going to fill them or to sign them. Forget it!" he told Suzanne.
“But it's a five hundred thousand dollars profit!"
“It's not a profit! This is all an illusion! Just convince yourself we have no building and feel better!"
Suzanne stopped. She became introspective and swallowed a hard lump of disappointment. Ernest sat in glum silence. He would also like to see the building already sold; he would also like to get some benefit out of the property his wife's parents had left them. But what more could he do? He’d done everything humanly possible. Humanly possible… the words buzzed in his ears like bees… In human terms, he’d tried everything. But there was one way that was above nature.
"You know what, Suzanne?" Her sorrow had touched him. "If things work out soon, I will donate generously to the Holyland organization. Maybe if the poor cry out in prayer for us, the gates of Heavenly mercy will open. We are apparently not worthy, but if we make donation to the Holyland organization, it will be a huge merit for us. Fifty thousand dollars – a tenth of the profit we hope to make - that’s a decent sum, isn’t it? I can call them and say that's what we're going to do, and ask them if they’ll petition the Lord for us.”
"You think they have an office in Heaven, where they can pull strings and get preferential treatment for us? It doesn’t work that way.”
"Don’t be cynical, Suzanne. Let me explain. The Holyland organization can send a righteous man to pray for us at the Western Wall... and if we promise a generous amount of money for poor people in the Holy Land who cry out to God every day, their cries will be heard on our behalf as well. That's what I meant.”
"If it makes you feel good, you can call them. I believe that the charity we already give is enough, but do what you want.”
"Well, I'll call them and see what they can do,” said Ernest, and before he lost his resolve, he found the number and called Holyland right away.
They were hoping something might come of it, but they weren’t prepared for the knock on the door that came the very next day. A messenger stood there, holding out large envelope. All the documents they needed were there, all signed and stamped. At last they were free to sell the building!
"It took only twenty-four hours!” Ernest’s eyes were wide with amazement. And then his tone changed to frustration. “If only I’d known! Why didn’t I think of this a year ago? I wish I knew why I had to go through all this torment to get to where we are now, when I could have asked them months ago to pray for me at the Western Wall and spared us so much suffering! Why was I so dumb?”
“We needed to suffer, I guess,” Suzanne said. "That's what prepared us to recognize the power of a miracle. If it had happened right away, we might have thought it was a coincidence, but after everything we’ve been through, now we can realize how great and merciful God really is! Now we can understand the miracle that was done for us.”
And she was right. There was nothing more to say
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