MAAAAAAA ZEHHHH??? FLOOOOOOGGGHHHHRRRRRIIIIIDAAAAAA?!?!?
Every oleh chadash/olah chadashah has to weather the Israeli bureaucratic storm. There’s no way around it. This ever-entangled web of government balagan is the only gateway to citizenship. And to get through it without a story is almost unheard of.
Two days after I make aliyah I receive an email from Misrad HaKlita inviting me down to begin to establish my citizenship. After calling for three days straight- and even after multiple, well-efforted “spaseeba’s” to Ziva’s russian secretary- I can’t get in touch. So I decide to send Ziva an email telling her to call me, and apparently forget about it, because a week later I’m convinced some babushka bubby is looking for her grandson Aharon when I get a call from Ziva herself:
Ziva: Shalom, Aharon?
Ziva: Ken, ata Aharon- hitkasharta elai.
Meir: Ehhhh, nirah li sheh aht michapeset mishehu acher?
Ziva: Lo lo ze Aharon Paks, ata oleh chadash mi New Jehhhgghhhrrrsii. Medaberet Ziva m’misrad HaKlita, Petach Tikva.
Meir: Ah, Ziva! Ma nishma? Ken ken ze MEIR Aharon Fox, ratziti likvoa itach tor.
Ziva: Ken, az tavo machar b’eser. Tavi cheshbon bahnk, teudat oleh, teudat zehut, v’ darkon.
Meir: Tov, yallah.
After getting directions from a friend– “It’s 6 Mohaliver St. on the third floor, but it’s a small building so you could easily miss it”– I hop on a sherut, find the street, and, after passing it three times, make my way inside. This isn’t my first bureaucratic escapade (I was at the bank like six times because apparently that’s how long it takes to get a working ATM card and open an account) and as a basic rule of thumb I show up to these places with the worst expectations, so when they come out bad– but not as bad as I predict– I’m happy. For example: before I arrive I tell myself that it will take three hours before my name is called. And therefore, two and a half hours of waiting + spaseeba’s = me being thrilled to see my number flash on the screen.
Before I can even sit down, Ziva, a bubbly, maternal 60-something-year-old, announces that “she has to show me something.” Huh? “Yes, wait wait I’m going to find it,” she says, beaming. I have no idea what’s going on. I’ve never met this person before. All she knows is I’m a new oleh from New Jersey. What can she possibly have to show me?
Ziva plants a piece of paper on the table and the sight of it arches my eyebrows skyward. “Here I was thinking you were sending me love letter but, wow, really, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Jumbled letters and characters. Illiterate code. What on earth?
After reassuring myself that Ziva is not trying to recruit me to the Mossad’s Savta unit, I realize that this is the email I had sent that said I tried calling but couldn’t get through. Apparently, Misrad Haklita’s computers can’t decipher emails composed through Gmail. Wonderful. “You keep it as a souvenir” Ziva says, laughing. “Now we can begin.”
Every new immigrant receives a financial stipend from the government called a “Sal Klita.” These are paid out in monthly deposits and to receive them you must first demonstrate a working account. So I bring the right document from the bank to prove it. Not.
Ziva: No no this isn’t what I need.
Meir: Yes it is.
Ziva: No no you needed to bring this instead.
Meir: But that’s what they told me to bring.
Ziva: No, you need to go to the bank and bring this form back. Go now.
Meir: Wait, what?
Ziva: Yes, go now to the bank and bring it.
Meir: Now? B-but we’re in the middle of a meeting! Plus, the office closes in an hour- how am I supposed to get in?!
Ziva: Don’t worry I’ll be on lunch break, just ask for me. Also, do you have health insurance?
Meir: Um no, not yet
Ziva: Okay so also go to the post office and ask them to send the form for you. K go now, bye.
An hour and a half later (20 minutes to find the post office, an hour of waiting at the post office, five minutes at an ATM, five minutes to walk back) I’m Maccabi registered, proper bank slip in-hand. Stepping off the elevator I notice, as expected, that the office’s door is now closed. I knock. No answer. I knock again. No answer. I nearly break my hand pounding it. “REGA REGA, NU ANI BA.”
A scraggly-bearded security guard pokes his head out, his face like crinkled parchment, eyes beet red as if after a nap of 20 years.
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: We’re closed, come back tomorrow.
Meir: No, I was just here.
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: No, you weren’t.
Meir: Yes, I was. I was in the middle of a meeting with Ziva.
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: Ziva’s busy now. Come back another time.
Meir: No, she told me to ask for her and I would get in.
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: She didn’t tell me anything so you’re not coming in.
Meir: Okay, so can you go and ask her then?
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: No, she’s eating lunch.
Meir: Okay, can I call her on the phone and she’ll come and get me?
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: No.
Meir: So what do you want me to do? How am I supposed to get in?
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: The only way you can get in is if she comes and gets you herself but you can’t call her. If she’s really expecting you, she’ll know to come get you.
In life, rationality is usually a good approach for managing irrational situations. In Israeli bureaucratic offices however, irrationality must be met with irrationality for rationality to ensue. So I simply stick my head through the door and began to yell Ziva’s name at the top of my lungs.
Meir: “ZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! ZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVAAAAAAAA!!! ZEEEE MEEIIIRRRR!!!! ANI PO BAKNISA!!!!!
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: Stop it!!!! Stop that yelling!!!
Meir: ZIIIIIIIIVAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! BOOOOIIIII L’POOOOOOO!!!!!!!! HUUU LOOO NOTENNNN LIIII LEEEEHIIIIKAAAANESSSSSS!!!!!
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: STOP IT!!! STOP YELLING!!!!
Israeli Rip Van Winkle: OKAY!!! OKAY!!! COME IN ALREADY!!!!
After waiting for fifteen minutes in Ziva’s office alone (she still has another tuna sandwich to finish) she comes in, processes all my paperwork, and gives me her personal cell phone number in case I need anything else or have any questions about life. Really, she actually says that. People here. Ten minutes later I’m perusing the fruit and vegetable aisles of a local supermarket.
Those who have lived with me are accustomed to my uber-healthy–goji berry, raw chocolate, himalayan salt, chia seeds, maca powder, stuff-that-only-organic-nerds-do-research-on– eating habits and the nutritious concoctions I brew. In Israel, while some of the natural stuff is harder to come by, produce here happens to be mad cheap. So there I go, my cart engulfing pomegranates, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, strawberries… strawberries… strawberries? Where are the strawberries? After two rounds around the aisle prove fruitless (c’mon I had to, too easy) I pose a seemingly innocuous question to one of the workers.
Meir: “Slicha, eifoh hatutim?”
The dude looks at me as if I just sprouted three heads.
Worker, smirking: Ma? Tutim?
Meir: Ken, lo hitzlachti limtzoah.
Worker, sniggering: TUTIM?!
Meir: Ken, tutim. What is wrong with this guy?
Worker, chortling: TUTIM!?!? MAAAAAAA ZEH??? FLOOOOOOOGGGHHHHRRRRRIIIIIDAAAAAA?!?!
Suddenly, it registers. Unlike in America, fruit in Israel is seasonal, so certain fruits are only available at certain times. Strawberries, for instance, are only available during the winter– so my autumnal request for a winter fruit appears, to this man, completely absurd.
“Apparently not!!!” I yell back, my face turning crimson, laughter bursting through my nose.
Cuz that’s the thing. I’m not in Florida anymore. In Israel, things happen differently, and to survive here means familiarizing the unfamiliar and running with it. I would never blare my vocal chords across an American government office. I wouldn’t argue for 10 minutes with a taxi driver over $2.50. I wouldn’t ask my doctor’s secretary for cell phone service recommendations. I can’t be that guy. But here, where the bus drivers invite you over for shabbat meals, post office clerks dish out marriage advice, and “no” means “yes”– I have to be that guy.