Seeing double

Two homes are better than one for a busy, young Beit Shemesh couple who made aliya.

salon aug 17 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
salon aug 17 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
Being able to work in America without having to move out of your own beautiful home here sounds like an impossible riddle - until you meet one of several US-trained radiologists who have made aliya, set up shop in their homes and never need to be more than a step away from their computer screens. The owner of this home in Beit Shemesh is just such a lucky person. While her husband has to drive off to his Tel Aviv law firm, she stays at home dividing her time between caring for their six children, organizing the home and occasionally running up to her office, where three secretaries help to organize the steady flow of CT scans and MRIs which require her expert scrutiny and diagnosis. An idyllic way to make aliya, you might think - and you would be right. The Orthodox couple chose a part of Beit Shemesh which they felt best suited their lifestyle. It is generally known that the town, which started out as a transit camp for North African immigrants in the 1950s has grown exponentially and moved beyond its original population to encompass three totally dissimilar communities. One is the haredi, centered in what is called Ramat Beit Shemesh south of the original town but encroaching ever north; another is the crocheted kippa brigade where the women are likely to wear pants and not cover their hair; and this area, somewhere between the two. It is here that the young American couple decided to buy two of the modest look-alike family homes and knock them into one. "We preferred the area for several reasons," explains the doctor. "We had friends already living here, but also the concept of the double house was already known here, whereas in the other Orthodox area of small houses, we would have been the first and we didn't want to stand out and appear ostentatious." With three other couples having already taken on the challenge of a double house they were aware of the pitfalls. "The hardest part is to avoid making your home look like two houses stuck together - which it is in fact," says the owner. "There were beams and columns in very inconvenient places, and the challenge was to incorporate them into the house in the most natural way. It was very hard, like juggling with pieces of a puzzle. We did a lot of column-dodging." The entrance to the house through a pretty front garden was conceived as an area of rounded shapes, as opposed to the dining room which is rectangular and the lounge which is square. The striking inlaid marble sunburst circle on the floor is echoed in the large round mirror and the circular motif on the ceiling from which hang small rectangular shapes for an effective contrast. The area opens out into a large space for entertaining, an important factor for the family who often have many Shabbat guests. In particular the double back garden makes a spectacular setting for parties, such as the recent bat mitzva of one of their daughters. The owner was especially pleased with the work of her landscape gardener, Kobi Tal. A swimming pool on one side is a rare sight in Beit Shemesh and when not in use for the family, the pool is rented out for local children to take swimming lessons. "We do it as a service to the community," explains the owner. The kitchen is actually the place where the join between the two houses would have been, and it is entirely appropriate since it is a double kosher kitchen with two of everything. The variegated slate floor was chosen to give a homey feel, while in the adjoining den, slate is also used but in warmer shades of red and brown. The kitchen table looks out onto the front garden and can seat up to 15. Another area, brought about by the exigency of an immovable column, turned out to be a cozy corner which they made into a library. "It was just stuck in the middle of nowhere and we had this inspiration to make it into a niche for books," says the owner. It certainly looks very attractive and inviting and no one could guess where the original column actually stands. In fact the only clue that this was once two houses is the second staircase tucked right at the side and leading to the children's wing. At that side is also ample room for play areas, so the lounge and dining room are always in pristine condition. Outside was something I had never seen in all the houses I have written about in the last four and a quarter years - an area of the wall left unfinished in its raw concrete state."It's so that as Jews we will never forget the destruction of the Temple," explains the owner. Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: