A Few Days In


May 15, 2007

Dear friends and family,

In between all the stuff we have get done first in order to stay here, we do the things that are the reason we want to be here. David is learning every day at Yeshiva Rabbi Akiva, a new place started by Rabbi Shalom Gold (of “The Dik-Duk Book”) for men who got a late start in learning. Rabbi Gold decided to begin a night seder when he found out David will not be able to come next week when he starts work. I daven every day at the Kotel, we visit with friends and take walks every night in the sweetest air on the planet.

Yom Rishon
25 Iyar 5767
Sunday, May 13

This week we have to go to government offices to fulfill certain requirements in order to live here and take advantages of services. In Atlanta, I did a lot of organizing for this to ensure we’d have all the documentation in order. I’ve heard how horrible this process is. How long the waits, how uncaring the officials, how inept the system. I was terribly tense. Everyone says go early and we were getting a late start. David wanted to know exactly where we were going and I seemed to have two addresses for everything. He wanted to know what the purpose of each stop was, and I did not understand the meaning of the words: Ministry, Absorption, Muchedet. I had a complete meltdown. I wanted to crawl back into bed and stay there.

So David called Nefesh b’Nefesh. A very friendly woman answered the phone and took him through it all; step by step and address by address, including directions. She told him all the documents we’d need and why we had to go to each place.

We realized we’d waited too late in the day to get anywhere with the Dpt. Of Ministry –they close at noon. So we went to the Post Office to get our applications for health insurance. It seems a lot is done at the Post Office besides mail. Bills are paid, certain checks are cashed and documents are authorized. We arrived at about 12:30. The room was huge, filled with people seated in chairs-stadium style in front of a bank of about 12 windows. Above each window was a flat panel television screen playing nature scenes from something like National Geographic alternating with extreme sports (such as skydiving on skis, and parasailing with kites). On the screen were also two sets of large red numbers: a one digit number for the booth and a three digit number for the last person called. They were on person 163 and we were number 229. We found a seat and settled in.

There was a cross section of Israeli society there. I did not feel we stuck out because everyone looked so different. There was a chassid in a long striped coat who had helped us at the door to get our number. An elderly frum couple looking a little lost and wearing many layers of clothing came in, they must have been suffocating. We sat across from a arab worker with rough hands. Arab women in tight pants and their heads covered with scarves walked by. Two large black nuns came in with packages in a hand truck they pushed. Mostly we saw secular Israelis. About ten minutes later they had called person 164. We nested.

The whole scene: the vivd television screens, the stillness, the unlikely assembly and our lingering jetlag combined to create a sense of surrealism. We felt vulnerable to this system we did not understand. Our collection of warnings and well wishes did not offer comfort. We watched with anxiety as they ticked through the numbers and surprisingly, they made it to 229 within 45 minutes.

Once at the window, it all went rather smoothly. We chose Muchedet insurance because that is what our friends in the Rova unanimously recommend. We got our registration and we went home.

Not too bad for a jetlagged day one.

Yom sheini
26 Iyar 5767
Monday, 14 May 2007

Today we are off to the Ministry of the Interior where we will hopefully receive our Teudat Zehoots (identity cards), banking permission and other documents essential to citizenship. Why-we are often asked- did we decide to become citizens? After all, we have said our choice to be here was because it is, in a word, a mitzvah. However, it is a mitzvah to live in Israel-the Torah does not say anything about becoming a citizen of the medina (modern state of Israel)-as much of miracle its existence is.

Usually one’s decision on whether to accept citizenship or not is primarily one of economics or ideology. Financially for us, the tax perks/disadvantages balanced out no matter what we did. The deciding financial factor for us was health insurance. At our ages the cost of private health insurance was comparable to that in the US—just too much to pay on an Israeli salary.

Ideologically, we are mitzvah oriented, not medina oriented. This is a hot subject, controversial and often divisive among Jews-so what else is new? Many say if 5,000 (some say 10,000) American Jews made Israel their home, it would result in a dynamic cultural/political shift here. Maybe. G-d runs this show, albeit through natural means.
We are here as Jews, true to Torah values and will participate in the government as loyal Jews, true to Torah values. This week’s parsha was about this. We are not a nation like others.

Speaking of this week’s parasha. David was called to the Torah on Shabbat for the Levi aliya. You won’t believe the first line of the aliya: “The land will give its fruit, you will eat your fill and you will dwell securely upon it.”

---Off to become citizens, now.

The day could not have gone better. We arrived at the Ministry of the Interior office 40 minutes before they opened; it was just a short walk from the Old City and a glorious spring morning. When the doors opened, we followed the crowd up the stairs and into the reception area where we got our number and papers to fill out. Problem #1: the papers were completely in Hebrew. But the good news is we were number 8! So when we were soon called, we told the official-who could not speak English-that we couldn’t do this. She solved the problem in a completely Israeli way. She found a nice young man, with a much higher number, whom she astutely identified as an English/Ivrit speaker to help us. He did, and we were then ushered to the only desk with an English speaking official. Chani was efficient, courteous and wished us well as she presented us with our prizes-his and hers teudat zehoots! It only took 20 minutes. We’d heard such horror stories, people leaving in tears, coming back three times, the office closing before they got their paperwork completed. This was a kiss from Hashem. And now we could open a bank account.

Off we went up Jaffa Road, and Ben Yehuda to King George. There it was, Bank Leumi. We were told to ask for Vivian who speaks English, but she was not there. So we took a number. Taking a number is de rigueur here, have you noticed? Morris who speaks French, not English called our number. David thought it was ridiculous to have someone open our account who could not communicate with us, but I thought it kind of fun. Morris clearly wanted to help and our request to open an account not so unusual; it just took forever and we had to sign our names an inordinate amount of times on forms and stickers. We have no ideas what we promised or agreed upon with all those signatures.

While we were sitting with Morris who speaks French at the bank, Inna who speaks Russian from the Ministry of Absorption called to make an appointment. Olim (immigrants) have to go there after opening a bank account because there is an Absorption Basket-30,000 shekels (about $9,000.00 for a couple w/o dependents) deposited into a oleh’s bank account over the first year. Since we were right around the corner, she waited for us. She was delightful and went over the future deposits, different ulpan options, told us how to get driving licenses. Wow-it only took 10 minutes, and we did not even have to take a number.

Our final destination to become “official” was to the Muchedet. That involved a long walk up Jaffa Road, past Machena Yehuda almost to the bus station. It was getting hot and we were getting tired. The Muchehdet building was well marked and we went in to the information booth where we got a nice "welcome home" from the attendant. (No one has been that friendly, he was probably a volunteer!). We were directed to the waiting room where we-you guessed it-took a number. Within 30 minutes, we were called, processed and back in the sunshine on Jaffa Road.

It was 11:30 a.m. And we were done.

We decided to celebrate the raging success of our morning with a nice lunch. Don't Jews always celebrate with food? I remembered a good café at Tachana Merkazit, (photo credit) the Central Bus Station, that Elise and I once enjoyed. Tachana is a multi story building that houses a mall, complete with shuk style kiosks and internet café. There are, indeed buses. The top level is the Jerusalem station for intra-city buses. We navigated through the crowds and security, up the escalator and enjoyed the best sandwich I have ever had in my life, in the best city in the world.

Come home soon.

Love, Renee & David

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