Fall 2022, Volume 33

Fiction by Ellis Shuman

Mrs. Levinsky’s Old Fiat

I can’t remember when I last saw Mrs. Levinsky. She lives across the hall from me and I pass by her door every morning on my way to work, and again when I return home in the evenings, but I never see her. Not even on weekends.

I have occasionally wondered whether Mrs. Levinsky still lives in that apartment. Maybe she passed away in her sleep. After all, she is quite elderly. Perhaps she suffered a fatal fall? No, she is definitely alive. When I walk in the hall, I hear the sound of a chair scraping across the floor. A kettle coming to a boil. A radio news broadcast. She’s alive, and she’s inside. But her door never opens.

I distinctly remember seeing her the day I moved into my third-floor apartment on Matta Street. That was four years ago. I had just moved to Tel Aviv from the kibbutz where I grew up. Finding available apartments in Tel Aviv is nearly impossible, but I got lucky. My good friend Shira was moving to a new place and I took over her rental contract.

“Who are you?”

I stopped for breath after struggling up the steep stairs, dragging two heavy suitcases filled with all the clothes I owned. I smiled at the frail, slightly stooped, gray-haired woman with large round glasses. Mrs. Levinsky. She took a step back and clutched her apartment door.

“Rami Harel. I’m moving into Shira’s place.”

“Shira? Who is that?”

“Shira used to live here. She’s getting married.”

“Who are you?” my neighbor asked again, as if I hadn’t previously introduced myself.

I nodded at her and went into my new home.

A small living room, an even smaller bedroom. One window in each, facing the street. The rent was exorbitant, but that was typical for Tel Aviv. I was thankful for the place, even with its leaking toilet; the cramped shower stall; the rattling refrigerator that Shira had left me, along with an electric hot plate and an aging microwave oven. I had a mattress to sleep on, but the living room was bare. I vowed to look for secondhand furniture and a television after I settled in.

Tel Aviv! It was a dream come true. Growing up, I had looked forward to the day when I would live near the beach, hang out in the bars, party in the clubs, and meet all the beautiful women the city had to offer. After completing three years of compulsory service in the Artillery Corps and an eight-month trek through South America, I concentrated on computer studies. I landed an entry position at a well-known software company and left the kibbutz for good.

I settled into my new apartment and adapted to my daily routine. I took the bus each morning to Herzliya Pituach, north of Tel Aviv, where I worked long hours, but enjoyed every minute. My coworkers were young and energetic, like me. We were all dedicated to our jobs and to the future of our company. One day it would go public, I was told, and because I had received stock options as part of my compensation package, I would one day be rich. I imagined owning an apartment, maybe in one of the ultra-modern high rises being built all over the city. In the meantime, I was satisfied to be living on Matta Street.


“She’s a Holocaust survivor,” Mrs. Grossman from the second floor told me one morning, referring to Mrs. Levinsky across the hall. “She came to Israel from the camps in Poland,” she continued, eager to engage in conversation. “She met her late husband here, zichrono lebracha, and they moved into the building many, many years ago. Without him, she’s all alone. A recluse. So sad.”

“Well, it’s nice talking to you, Mrs. Grossman. I need to get to work.”

“See you soon, Rami.”

The other residents of the building were friendly as well. The Levys on the fourth floor were a jovial couple whose three children and six grandchildren religiously climbed the stairs every week for a festive, if noisy, Friday night dinner. Tall and mysterious Benny Halfon across from them regularly traveled overseas—I wondered if he worked in the Mossad. The Singers on the first floor were raising two constantly crying infants. The apartment next to theirs was unoccupied. Talkative Mrs. Grossman said it was owned by a couple in France, but it wasn’t clear if it they planned to live there, or if they considered the apartment an investment.

I occasionally saw these neighbors, and we exchanged friendly greetings when passing. But I never saw Mrs. Levinsky. She didn’t have any children, Mrs. Grossman told me. I wondered if Mrs. Levinsky had any family at all.


“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Shira said, when she came to visit me for the first time with her husband in tow. By then she was six months pregnant, with a protruding belly, and it was difficult for her to climb the three flights of stairs. “Your sofa is comfortable, if a bit lumpy.”

“Someone left it on the street. I got most of my furniture that way. I’m still looking for a proper bed, though.”

“Must have been a pain to lug everything up the stairs,” Shira’s husband commented. Turning to his wife, he said, “I can’t believe you lived in this dump.” But realizing what he’d said, he apologized to me.

“No offense taken,” I said, as I poured coffee for the three of us. “Tell me something, Shira. Did you have much contact with Mrs. Levinsky?”

“I had an argument with her once.”

“An argument?”

“Yes. About her car.”

“What car?”

“The car that’s parked outside the building.”

“That old Fiat?”

“Yes, that’s hers.”

“What did you argue about?”

“I asked her to move it. My parents were coming to visit from the kibbutz. As you know, my father has a difficult time walking. He could barely get up the stairs, just like me! I wanted to make it easier for him, so I asked Mrs. Levinsky if they could park right in front. But she exploded!”


“I don’t have a clue! I don’t remember her ever driving the car. I doubt she still has a license at her age.”

“What is she, a hundred years old?”

“Probably!” Shira laughed and sipped her coffee.

Parking spaces in Tel Aviv are almost as rare as available apartments. Sure, the fancy high rises had underground lots, but those who rented in the lower income neighborhoods had to be extremely lucky to find a place near their homes. Matta was a particularly narrow one-way street; the cars parked on either side made it difficult for drivers to navigate. Cars were packed together so tightly that you couldn’t even see the curb. There was nearly nowhere to park, but there was one good spot right in front of my building. Where Mrs. Levinsky’s old Fiat was parked.


Shira and I have never been romantically involved, but she will always be my best friend. After all, we grew up together and there’s nothing like growing up on a kibbutz. Our childhood experiences—in kindergarten, in school, in the communal dining room, and when celebrating the holidays—these are things that keep you connected for years, long after you leave the kibbutz.

Shortly after arriving in Tel Aviv, I started up with Liat, an intern at Ichilov Hospital. Liat had been luckier than me in finding a place to live. Her second cousin served in the Foreign Ministry and had taken up a diplomatic post in Madrid. The cousin’s two-bedroom apartment was a short walk from the hospital and completely furnished. Compared to the mattress on my floor, it was a much more comfortable place to sleep, which I did whenever Liat was not on one of her frequent night shifts.

When I brought Liat to the kibbutz for the first time—a long bus journey during which Liat slept and I daydreamed about how my life would change after my company went public—my mother was convinced she was the one I was going to marry.

“You should come more often,” my mother said, reaching out to tenderly touch Liat’s shoulder.

“The kibbutz is quite far from Tel Aviv,” I reminded her.

“It would be much easier to get here if you had a car.”

“A car in Tel Aviv? You know how bad the traffic is! And the parking. There’s nowhere to park, especially not near my apartment.”

“You could always park at Yaron’s building,” Liat suggested. “He doesn’t have a car. I’m sure he would gladly let you park there.”

“But that’s six blocks away from me.”

“What’s six blocks when we’re talking about visiting your parents up north?” my mother said, as if getting a car was the best way to express my love for her.

I dismissed my mother’s suggestion until one day my boss informed me that I had received a promotion at work, and a raise, and a hefty bonus. He also said I would be assigned a reserved parking space underneath our company’s building.

“How have you managed on public transportation all this time?” he asked.

“Coming by bus is not that bad,” I insisted, yet getting a car was tempting. Not only would it be easier to get to work but also to visit my parents on the kibbutz. And, I would be able to drive south with Liat for a vacation in Eilat.

“Owning a car has its advantages,” I admitted, and my boss laughed. “But the traffic! And the lack of parking!”

“Don’t you have anything near your building?”

“Not on Matta Street. I could never maneuver to get a spot.” But there was one place I could park, I reminded myself. The spot outside my building, currently taken by Mrs. Levinsky’s old Fiat, would be perfect for me.


Returning home that evening—after an annoying armpit-to-armpit bus ride—I stopped to stare at the ancient car. Dull blue sides on a small-framed, two-door relic from a previous era. A Fiat 500F logo on the back, a six-digit license plate hanging at an angle. The ramshackle vehicle’s windows were covered with dust and the tires were deflated. The licensing sticker on the windshield was years out-of-date. It looked like the car hadn’t been serviced in ages.

Why should a piece of junk be taking up the best space on the street? I doubted Mrs. Grossman had a car, and Benny Halfon was overseas so often that he didn’t need one. Maybe the Singers owned a vehicle with baby seats in the back, but I didn’t have a clue where they parked.

One thing was certain. Mrs. Levinsky owned a Fiat which she never drove. Maybe I could convince her to move it so that I’d have a place to park the car I would soon be buying.

I knocked on Mrs. Levinsky’s door, but there was no response. I heard classical music playing on her radio. She was inside, for sure. Maybe she hadn’t heard me. I knocked again, harder this time.

“She never answered the door,” I told Liat that evening, when I arrived at her apartment with plans to spend the night.

“Try calling her.”

“I don’t have her phone number.”

“You give up too easily.”

It wasn’t clear to me if Liat was serious. She didn’t know Mrs. Levinsky, I thought, but, neither did I.


On Shabbat, I bumped into Mrs. Grossman on the stairs. “Do you think I could convince Mrs. Levinsky to move her car?” I asked.

“That car has been there since her husband died,” Mrs. Grossman said, nodding her head in sympathy with my plight.

“I would drive it away for her,” I volunteered.

“It’s a sentimental thing.”

“What’s her phone number? I’ll call her.”

“I doubt she’d hear the phone ring, she’s so hard of hearing. Anyway, you shouldn’t bother her over something like that, Rami. Why don’t you come into my apartment and have some coffee? I just baked a chocolate cake.”

That evening, when I spoke to Liat again about Mrs. Levinsky, my girlfriend laughed.

“You're obsessed with her! Take pity on her, Rami. Look at what she's gone through in life.”

“I’m not obsessed. I just want to talk to her. I’m sure she’ll understand that she doesn’t need to keep a wreck like that if she never plans to drive it.”

Yet, what Liat said was true. I couldn’t stop thinking about ways to convince Mrs. Levinsky to let me have that ideal parking spot. In the morning, I again heard furniture scrape across her floor. And the whistle of her kettle. I knocked impatiently.

“Mrs. Levinsky,” I called out. “Can I talk to you?”

There was no response.

That evening, when I returned from work, I knocked again. I could hear her moving around, but she didn’t answer the door.

“Open up! I know you’re in there!” I screamed, pounding on it repeatedly
Mrs. Levinsky’s door never opened.


“When are you getting your new car?” my mother asked me on the phone. “You promised to come.”


“You’ve been saying that for weeks. I want to see Liat again,” she said. “She may be my daughter-in-law one day. Imagine that—a doctor in the family!”

“Imma! Enough with your constant nudging. I’ll get a car as soon as I’m sure I’ll have somewhere to park.”

“A place to park? Are you still talking about that?” my mother asked.

When I hung up the phone, I went over the simple facts in my mind. There was a good parking place right outside my building. In that spot, there was a run-down, uncared-for clunker that was never used. The neglected vehicle belonged to my neighbor from across the hall. I hadn’t seen Mrs. Levinsky since the day I moved in. If she was too old to drive, and no longer had a license, she should get rid of the car. Sell it for scrap metal. The decrepit Fiat—it was worthless. It shouldn’t be there, parked where I would park my new car!

“I have to see her. I need to talk to her,” I said to Liat. “If I asked her nicely, she’d agree to move her car. I would get rid of it for her. I’d do that. No trouble at all.”

“Rami!” Liat said, shaking my shoulders. “Get over it. Buy your car and park at Yaron’s building. It’s only six blocks away. That’s not that far.”

“I live on Matta Street. That’s where I’m entitled to park!”

I couldn’t stop thinking about that damn car. What would happen if I towed it away in the middle of the night? I wondered. Or arranged for the underworld to steal it? But it was a piece of junk! No one would want it. And, it had to go.

The next morning, I wrote a quick note to my neighbor. “I’m Rami Harel, from across the hall. I would like to talk to you. Can you tell me what time is good?”

I slid the note under her door and headed to work. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to find when I returned in the evening. Would she be waiting in the hall to greet me? Would there be a note under my door? Nothing. Not that day, or on any other day that week.


I asked the Levys if they had any contact with Mrs. Levinsky, but they were rushing to the supermarket before their family's Shabbat visit, too busy to talk. I approached the Singers, but their infants were fighting over pacifiers and could not be bothered to reply with anything more than a nod. And Benny Halfon—of course he was overseas, possibly on another of his secret Mossad missions.

There was no one to assist me in contacting Mrs. Levinsky. Even chatty Mrs. Grossman was of little help. I would have to find a way to get through to my neighbor on my own.

I would confront her in the hall, I vowed, but when? What time did she leave her apartment? She must go out. After all, she needed to shop for groceries, go to the doctor, something. She couldn’t remain inside forever. If I knew what time of day she went on her errands, I’d wait outside her door and catch her for a brief conversation.

That’s when I came up with the idea of the camera. A security camera installed overhead that would focus on her door and record her movements. Once I knew Mrs. Levinsky’s daily routine, I’d be able to catch her for a quick talk. The expense of the camera was worth it. That parking spot would soon be mine!


Later that week, after returning from work, I opened my laptop and logged into the security program. On the screen I saw the door of Mrs. Levinsky’s apartment in the dimly lit hallway. All was quiet—the camera did not record audio. Nothing happened. The hall remained empty.

I fast forwarded. The time clock showed 9 in the morning, 10 o’clock, and then 11. Nothing. At 11:43, a shadow came into view. Someone was coming up the stairs! A delivery man! He put two small plastic bags of groceries on the floor in front of Mrs. Levinsky’s door, knocked several times, and left. All that I could see in the hall were the shopping bags.

Great! She would soon open the door to get her groceries. I continued to watch the video footage, waiting. I fast forwarded, and the digits flashed quickly. The time showed 12 o’clock, and then 1 in the afternoon. 2 o’clock. 3 o’clock. My eyes tired watching the gray hallway for minutes on end. I wondered whether she would ever make an appearance.

My phone rang. It was Liat.

“Are you coming over?”

“Yes, I’m just checking something and then I’ll be on my way.”

“We’re going to that Thai place on Dizengoff, right?”

“Yes. I made reservations. We’ll have the table for an hour and a half. That should be enough time, right?”

“Don’t be late. I’m working the night shift, remember?”

I turned back to my laptop and realized I hadn’t stopped the fast forwarding. At this point of the video, I saw the same dimly lit hallway, but the grocery bags were gone. She had opened the door, and I missed her! I played the video in reverse. And then I stopped.

At exactly 4:30 in the afternoon, a shadow crossed the hall and moved toward Mrs. Levinsky’s door. Another delivery? No, it was Mrs. Grossman. She picked up the first bag of groceries and knocked on the door. When there was no reply, Mrs. Grossman held out a key and turned the lock. She opened the door and placed the groceries just inside the entrance. Then she did the same with the second bag. Finally, she took out some garbage, stepped back, and locked the door. A moment later, Mrs. Grossman disappeared from view. The hall was empty again.

“Oh, yes, I have a key to her apartment,” Mrs. Grossman told me when I saw her the next day. “I bring in her shopping and take out the trash.”

“So, you could talk to her for me! Tell her I want to speak to her.”

“No, Rami, I never see her. She’s a recluse, even from me. So sad.”

Disappointed, I hurried off to work. Maybe there would be other deliveries, I thought. Maybe Mrs. Levinsky would open the door herself.

Over the next week, I monitored the video footage every evening. Nothing else was delivered to her door. The hallway remained empty, undisturbed. But then, movement caught my attention. One late afternoon, three people trooped up the stairs. Family members? I sat up in my seat. Teenagers—two girls and a boy—came into view. They turned toward my door and disappeared under the scope of the security camera. I couldn’t see what they were doing.

The three reappeared and turned to Mrs. Levinsky’s door. One of the girls reached forward to knock, while the other two swayed back and forth as if they were dancing. The first girl shrugged and headed back toward the stairs. The other two followed.

I guessed the three of them were collecting donations, maybe for the Cancer Association. They were unsuccessful in their mission on the third floor, in getting Mrs. Levinsky to open her door. As unsuccessful as me.

“Come in for coffee,” Mrs. Grossman said when I saw her outside the building on Shabbat.

“Thank you, but I’m busy right now,” I said, glancing at the dust-covered Fiat as I spoke. “On my way to my girlfriend.”

“Liat—that’s her name, isn’t it? Such a friendly girl. Rami, you must come in. Today I baked an apple strudel and it’s still hot. Straight out of the oven.”

Before I knew it, I had accepted Mrs. Grossman’s invitation. The apple strudel was just as good as promised. Even better. While I ate, I half listened to her life story. How she had made aliyah from Hungary as a young girl; how she met her husband Shmuel, of blessed memory; how they had three children when they could barely make ends meet; and how their children were now very successful. A doctor, a lawyer, and a science teacher. And then there were the grandchildren…

“I really have to go,” I said to Mrs. Grossman, standing up. “This was very, very good, but Liat is waiting for me.”

“Take some for Liat. I insist.”

“Thank you, very much.”

When I returned to my apartment later that day, I reviewed the latest video tapes, trying to catch Mrs. Levinsky outside her door. Surely, she would make an appearance. She must go out for fresh air at some time.
But there was nothing. Just grayish, shadowy hallway.


“So, what type of car are you buying?” my boss asked me in the office.

“I haven’t decided.”

“You don’t seem very excited.”

“Oh, I want a car. It’s just the headache of finding a parking spot.”

“You have a reserved slot under the building,” my boss reminded me.

“Not here. At home. On Matta Street.”

I should own a car, I told myself. Look at where I was in life. I had a challenging, but rewarding job. I had recently gotten a promotion and a raise. I had a nice, attractive girlfriend. My life was good, so I deserved a car! And, I should have a suitable place to park! There was one such spot right outside my building. The parking space where Mrs. Levinsky’s dilapidated, unused, dusty Fiat sat. That spot should be mine!

When I came home that evening, annoyed at the crowded bus, I was resolved more than ever to confront her. I would pound on her door until she answered it. I would break it down if I had to. I would issue her an ultimatum. I would demand that she move her disused Fiat. I would not stop until I had that spot!

I raced up three flights of stairs and approached her door. But when I raised my fist, prepared to launch my assault, something made me pause. Her radio wasn’t playing. No furniture was being dragged across the floor. Even her kettle was silent. But there was something else, barely audible.

“Aye, yaye, yaye.”

“Mrs. Levinsky, are you okay?” I raised my voice, but there was no response. And then…

“Aye, yaye.”

It sounded like she was in pain. Suffering.

“Should I call someone? Should I get Mrs. Grossman?”


“I’ll call Magen David Adom,” I shouted, pulling out my phone.

“Help me.”

She needed medical attention. Right away!


I stuffed my phone in my back pocket and pushed against her door. It was locked. I slammed against it. And then again. A piercing pain shot up my shoulder but I rammed into the door, and finally it gave way. The door crashed inward, free of its lock. I raced inside.

Mrs. Levinsky lay on the floor, her fragile body draped in a dull green bathrobe.

 “Are you okay?” I asked. Clearly, she wasn’t.

I lifted her head, turned it so it wasn’t at a strange angle. She was clearly in pain, a lot of it. I didn’t know what to do, if I should move her, or cover her with a blanket.
She stared at me with wide eyes, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Rami,” I said. “From across the hall. Your neighbor.”

The paramedics came quickly, and I met them on the third-floor landing with a tearful Mrs. Grossman at my side. We watched as they hurried inside to attend to the ailing woman.

A few minutes later, they reemerged from the apartment with their gurney. I leaned back against my door, unable to do anything to assist them. Actually, I had already done everything I could.

That evening, I reviewed the video footage, watching my weird performance as I slammed repeatedly into Mrs. Levinsky’s door, pounding it with my body until it broke inwards, shattering its wooden frame. I watched my return to the hall where I spoke rapidly into my phone. I saw the paramedics arrive as I exchanged worried glances with Mrs. Grossman. I watched them take Mrs. Levinsky out of her apartment and carefully maneuver down three flights of stairs.

I was wrong to have been angry with her. It was immature and inconsiderate of me to have desired to confront her, to make any sort of demands. I was mean, self-serving, and she was an elderly, infirm woman. She had faced so much in her life, things which I knew nothing about. She had survived the Holocaust; she had been widowed; and I had only thought about myself. What kind of person did that make me?

I pushed the Delete button and erased the video footage. I knew I would never use the security camera again.


That was the last time I ever saw Mrs. Levinsky. Mrs. Grossman informed me that my across-the-hall neighbor died peacefully in her sleep at the hospital. I wasn’t aware of any funeral arrangements. Mrs. Levinsky had been childless, and no shiva was held to memorialize her.

A moving team arrived later that week to remove Mrs. Levinsky’s possessions from her vacated apartment. Old-fashioned furniture was dumped on the sidewalk outside the building’s entrance. Piles of newspapers hoarded over the years were sent for recycling. Cracked dishes and rusty silverware were discarded. Clothing closeted for decades was given to charity. I went through the junk but found nothing worth retrieving.

As for the orphaned Fiat—the municipality sent a crew to tow it away and transport it to wherever they transport junky vehicles. Maybe it would end its life as scrap metal.

Two weeks later, I bought my car. Second hand, but with little kilometrage. Wait until I showed it to Liat! We could go on our long-awaited Eilat vacation in style. As for my mother—she be delighted to see us more often.

I picked the car up at the dealership in Glilot, just north of Tel Aviv, and navigated through the traffic until I reached one-way Matta Street. My street, my building, my home. I prepared to back into my coveted parking spot. The parking spot that was rightfully mine.

There was another car parked there. A Fiat.

I double-parked and got out of my vehicle.

“It’s a beauty, isn’t it?”

It was Benny Halfon, my tall, mysterious neighbor from the fourth floor. He stood next to the car, polishing its roof in widening circles.

“A collector’s piece,” he said, pointing at the six-digit license plate. “A classic Fiat 500F model. It has a 499cc air-cooled engine and four-speed manual transmission. Look at its a roll-back vinyl roof! Not many of this model were imported in Israel, and I bought it at a good price. You wouldn’t believe it—it used to belong to Mrs. Levinsky, who lived here in the building. I fixed it up. It’s like new! What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to say,” I replied honestly.

“I doubt I’ll ever move it,” he continued. “I am overseas most of the time, and when I get home, I rarely go out. And even when I do… Too precious to drive, I think.”

Mrs. Levinsky’s parking spot had been claimed by Benny Halfon and his vintage car. Halfon was probably a Mossad agent, I remembered, so I certainly didn’t want to argue with him, to provoke him in any way.

I nodded at my neighbor and returned to my double-parked car. I took one last look at the Fiat parked outside my building, at how it was being kept in pristine condition by its new owner, and I sighed. I hit the gas and sped down Matta Street. I would park at Yaron’s building, I decided. It was only six blocks away. It really wasn’t that far.




BIO: Ellis Shuman is an American-born Israeli author, travel writer, and book reviewer. His writing has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The Oslo Times, and The Huffington Post. He is the author of The Virtual Kibbutz, Valley of Thracians, and The Burgas Affair. His short fiction has appeared in Isele Magazine, Vagabond, Literary Yard, The Write Launch, Adelaide Literary, and other literary publications. You can find him at https://ellisshuman.blogspot.com/