Jerusalem Apartments - Security Doors and Telecards

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info

The Serial Tourist's Guide to Living in Jerusalem

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Jerusalem has always had crime problems, and most buildings have iron bars or decorative steel gratings installed on windows that can be reached from the ground. Due to the presence of balconies on most buildings, some of which line up with each other vertically and give a would-be burglar an easy climbing path, some second or third story windows are also barred. But one security measure in Jerusalem is nearly universal, at least in apartment buildings, the hollow-core steel security door. The main styles I've seen are either the fake wood finish in this picture, or white paint, but no security door would be complete without a deadbolt. Israeli deadbolts are a little over the top if you ask me. Four cylindrical bolts are the norm, it might have been three years ago. Some locks rotate multiple times, with each rotation moving the bolts out further. I never saw the point of that one either, but I guess it goes to show that people like having options. The keys are "unpickable" type, with drilled depressions on the flats for the pins to line up on.
Israeli security doors have another trick working for them. The normal spring loaded latch, shown to the right, often requires the key to operate. This is by design, they simply replace the turning handle on the outside of the door with a simple pull handle, that does nothing more than give you something to grip. This option is chose by people who like the idea that the door can't be opened from the outside without a key. The problem, as I discovered the other day, is that if the door swings shut with your key in the lock on the inside, you're locked out. Now look again at the picture above, with the key in the outside of the door. See the little key emblem and the phone numbers for a locksmith? You'll see these on most Jerusalem apartment doors because people are always locking themselves out. The locksmith service is 24 hours, the particular locksmith on this sticker give his name and mobile phone number, as well as the office number.
But, if you read the fine print on the inside of our door, it says "Warning! A closed door isn't locked." You could read "closed" as "slammed" but it amounts to the same thing. "You have to turn the key to lock the door." And that's pretty much what I figured when I locked myself out, but after a few minutes of trying to pop the latch with a business card, I got the idea into my head that the best thing to do would be to get up onto the roof and drop down to my balcony, since I knew that door was open. Since my apartment is on the top floor, the fourth, this sounded good in principal, but fortunately, the door to the roof was locked and I couldn't find an neighbor with a key. I say fortunately because when I looked at the drop from the roof to the balcony from the inside later on, it was higher than I thought, and there was a real chance I could have lost my balance and fallen against the sliding glass doors.
In the end, I agreed to let a neighbor call a locksmith for me when he got back from walking a guest down to the street. As he left, I decided to give it the old college try, using my 50 unit telecard instead of a paper business card. On the bright side, the plastic telecard is an excellent thickness for popping doors open, stiff and flexible. On the downside, it cost a little over $5, and I was pretty confident I was ruining it to no effect. I'd looked at a neighbors door while it was open, so I knew where the latch was located, and concluded that the only way to pop it was to go straight in and just push as hard as I could. I gripped the free end of the card with both hands, and kept pushing while working it up and down just a fraction of an inch to keep it moving. Before the neighbor got back, I'd popped it open, saving myself quite a bit of embarrassment and probably a few hundred shekels for the locksmith as well. As an added bonus, the telecard still worked, though it tends to get stuck in the phones and I have to pull like heck to get it out.

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