By Mordechai Schmutter


My wife and I are building a border wall, and we’re making the Mexicans pay for it. Well, technically we’re paying for it, but the Mexicans are building it. At least I think they’re Mexicans. I’m not allowed to ask anymore. They’re guys who can lift 80 pound bricks with one hand, I can tell you that.

And actually, it’s not really a border wall; it’s more of a retaining wall. That sits on our border. Our neighbor’s yard is about a foot or two higher than ours. And apparently, if you have a cliff situation, you need a retaining wall, or else your cutaway of worm habitats slowly collapses, over time, and your neighbor’s barbecue grill starts sliding toward your house.

Our property actually had a retaining wall before we even moved in, made of concrete, but for a while it’s been leaning farther and farther into the little narrow walkway between our house and the end of our property. And if retaining walls can collapse, what’s the point of them?

So we had to replace it. Highways put up “falling rocks” signs; why can’t we just do that? It sounds cheaper.

Technically, we should probably go 50/50 on this with our neighbor, though we can’t seem to convince him of this, especially since the wall is — at least at the moment — in our property. Though that’s kind of the point. Our contractors advised against splitting the cost, I think primarily because they don’t want to have to write two whole invoices. They’re not writers.

And our neighbor isn’t Mexican either, by the way. I think he might be Dominican. His name is Herschel, which is a nice Dominican name.

He doesn’t know how he got that name. His father is Herschel, too, as was his grandfather. He comes from a long line of goyish Herschels.

Sorry, “non-Jewish” is the politically-correct term. Most publications don’t love when I use the term “goy,” because goyim find it offensive. Despite the fact that “goy” just means nation, and the Torah refers to us as a goy, too, but the goyim don’t know the Torah, so that doesn’t really help them. So we go with “gentile,” which offends nobody, because no one has any idea what it means. It definitely sounds less derogatory. When your kid does something you disapprove of religiously, you don’t say, “Stop acting like a gentile!”

Anyway, Herschel (aside from being a fireman) is our Saturday Gentile. Yes, we have a Saturday Gentile named Herschel. He’s actually the Saturday Gentile for the whole block. One of my neighbors has a motion-sensitive alarm on the ground floor of their house, and one Shabbos they realized it was on and they couldn’t go downstairs. So they leaned out their upstairs window and yelled, “Herschel!” and he brought his firetruck and ladder and plucked them out of the window.

I’m just kidding, but he could have. If you’re going to have a Saturday Gentile, make sure he’s a fireman. The only annoying thing is that when you tell him, “We forgot to leave our stove on for our three-day holiday,” he says, “Good.”

Point is, we don’t exactly want to start a border war with our Saturday Gentile. Plus I’m not going up against a guy who can lift me up and carry me out of a building.

To be fair, he did build a fence between our backyards that we didn’t ask for, and he paid for that. (After he ripped down a fence that was already there, which may have been ours and may have been his.) In fact, it looks like we’re trying to one-up him. “You built a fence? Well, we’ll build a wall!” The only thing is that the top of our wall goes to the bottom of his fence.

We’d actually told him not to build this fence just yet, because we weren’t sure exactly where our property line was at that point, plus it would be harder for our guys to put up the wall with his fence right on top of it. But he was in a major rush to put it up. I think this was because he was having a big family barbecue that weekend, so that all the cousins Herschel wouldn’t have to look at our yard. His wife kind of told my wife as much when my wife said something about the fence.

Not that our yard is horrible, but it happens to be that Herschel is very Yekkish about his. As a fireman, he gets two days off in the middle of the week, and it’s not like he has a chavrusa seder, so he spends the entire time outside, taking care of his lawn. Whereas my backyard looks like I have three indoor jobs and several kids with tuitions. Our backyard is where we temporarily put things we don’t want to think about, like our broken-down garage, an aging swing set, and bikes in various stages of decay.

So he gave us three days’ warning about his project, and we were trying to get our wall in under the fence. Literally. (Now I know where that expression comes from.) Because if we didn’t, we’d have to get it in under the fence.

My wife managed to convince them to hold off on building the side of the fence that faces our property, but it took us a while to find a mason, and this gentile kop decided to finish his fence the day before our guys got there. And now he has a fence around the back half of his property, which he has to mow around so he could spend even more time outside taking care of his lawn.

It turns out that building a wall is actually a whole four-day process, and I hope our workers know what they’re doing, because I don’t. First, they dug a huge trench, wider than the wall, and the next day, they filled the hole with gravel, and I’m thinking, “Wait. Why did you dig the hole just to fill it? There was already dirt in it!” I think they want the ground to be flat on their terms.

I always say that I’m willing to do things for my house that don’t involve water or electricity, but there’s no way I could’ve done this on my own. The workers keep showing up with pickup trucks full of gravel and then smaller gravel to pour between the gravel, and I’m thinking, “I don’t even know how to buy this at a store.” Nor would I know how to estimate how much gravel to even get for this hole. I would buy either way too little or way too much, like with Shabbos food.

They’re definitely doing things I wouldn’t have thought of. On Day 3, for example, they all showed up with hernia belts. On Day 1, they brought a “Johnny on the Spot.” They had it delivered, and it showed up on our front lawn even before they did. This impressed me right off the bat, and not for the obvious reasons. It just didn’t occur to me that over four days they would have to go to the bathroom.

It’s actually weird, because I have neighbors who didn’t realize that there was a massive dumpster in our driveway, but they noticed that there was a bathroom on our front lawn. They kept congratulating us on getting a first floor bathroom. So my wife made the workers push it to the backyard, after checking that there was no one in there.

It wasn’t easy to watch them work. I didn’t want to be in their way, and that side of the house has very little space in which to stand in the first place, and then there’s a fence. I have one decent window on that side of the house — upstairs — but the only way to see properly is to pull the air conditioner out of it. And then I feel like I’m too conspicuous. Especially if I drop the A/C.

But I could also see from the bathroom. So I basically spent a lot of time sitting in the bathroom and watching them for the sake of this article, which is I guess why they brought their own. Because they know. They’re professionals.

Well, actually, I thought we didn’t have any other windows on that side of the house, but then my daughter pointed out that we had a side door there, which is what the walkway was leading to in the first place. I’d totally forgotten about that.

Everyone has one side of the house that they never really walk on. We never go around that way. I’m not sure why. Well, I do — it was a really narrow path. And we’re probably not going to start walking on that side of the house now, near the guy who felt he had to put up a fence. We’re too set in our ways. Also, I’m pretty sure that the new wall is wider than the old one.

We’re pretty happy with it, though, and it’s totally worth the money that we could have spent on — I don’t know — an actual first-floor bathroom. On the one hand, it’s a fatter wall, so there’s less room for us to walk, but on the other hand, it’s a fatter wall, so it’s less likely that it will fall down. In fact, we don’t walk that way anyway, so the fatter the better. If it’s fatter than it is tall, it’s not going to fall over unless the neighbor circles our property and blows shofar, which he’s not likely to do. His fence is in the way.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of six books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to


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