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September 1, 2015 | 17th Elul 5775

Moving Rocks

Galilee Diary #451, August 5, 2009
Marc Rosenstein


The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. -Psalms 118:22

Every morning I take my "constitutional" (yes, even now that the dog has died) up the Shorashim hill and along the road where our newest neighborhood is under construction, and enjoy watching the progress of the new homes through the various phases of construction. And occasionally, I find myself wondering about the logic of the process. Shorashim is built on a shoulder of Mt. Gilon, mostly sitting on exposed limestone bedrock. When the founders settled here in the early 80s, they brought with them from California the well-known, somewhat iconoclastic architect from California, Chris Alexander, who helped them design a community that was integrated into the natural topography, requiring minimal bulldozing of the landscape (but, it would later turn out, requiring a long walk from the car to the house). The original houses are scattered around in clusters, each at a different elevation according to the lay of the land. Later development of the hill has been more traditional, less concerned with preservation. In order to build a row of houses on rectangular lots along a street, large amounts of rock has to be drilled out to create a flat platform at the right elevation. Then pilings have to be drilled deep into the bedrock, as this is an earthquake zone.

All the boulders, chunks, chips, and dust resulting from all this drilling and bulldozing have been piled up just beyond the new neighborhood, in a hideous beige mini-mountain thrown across the natural green slope. One would hope that when the construction is done someone will truck this rubble away, but the pile has been growing for a few years now and it is taking on a look of sad permanence. Once the rock is leveled and the pilings drilled, wooden forms are built, steel rods set inside, and the first concrete is poured. Once it sets, concrete insulation block or simple cinderblock is used to build the walls, which do not meet - the corners are left unfinished. The boards removed from the foundation forms are used to build new forms, enclosing the corners of the walls (where they should meet but don't), and the top of the wall where it will meet the ceiling. Scaffolding is erected and a ceiling of more of these same boards is laid on it. Steel rods are inserted in all these spaces. Then concrete is poured again, filling the corners, topping off the walls, and forming a ceiling resting on the scaffolding; thus the cinderblock walls are completely framed by steel-reinforced concrete. It used to be that a layer of foamed concrete was poured on top of the concrete ceiling, to insulate and adjust the pitch, and roofing material was laid on this. Now, many new homes add a peaked roof of clay tiles, creating an attic or crawl space above the cast ceiling.

Then come the plasterers, with two coats inside and one outside, followed by sprayed-on stucco finish. For reasons I've never understood, only after the plaster has been applied does the electrician come in and chisel channels in the walls and ceiling for electric conduits, which must then be plastered over. Next, sand is poured on the floor to provide a level substrate, and the tile-men cover this with ceramic tile set in mortar. Wood window frames are gone now - everything is enameled aluminum, which comes in every color and shape and price. In our new neighborhood, the fashion is massive wooden front doors, extra high, extra wide, extra thick, perhaps out of nostalgia for medieval Europe...

This laborious process of block and concrete construction has changed little over the decades - now, at least, you sometimes see some internal walls of gypsum board over metal studs.

On my morning walk I observe the drills and tractors removing limestone no one wants and dumping it on the growing pile. Later, my office vibrates all day from the trucks laboring up the hill carrying blocks, paving stones, plaster, and concrete - limestone in other forms, gouged out of a mountain elsewhere in Israel, processed, packaged, transported, and reassembled into a row of... limestone-colored houses. Seems like there ought to be a better way.

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