| LifeTakes |

Land of Dreams (and Bureaucratic Nightmares)

You call, and they all speak only Hebrew, but that’s okay, hey, you took Ivrit class in school.

You’re living the dream. That’s what they all say.

Living the dream means you can walk to the Kosel whenever you want. It means looking out your window and seeing hills and valleys and Kever Shmuel Hanavi. Living the dream is walking streets named for characters in Tanach and dusty paths where you trip over stones a thousand years old. It’s kosher ice cream at the gas station and buses that wish you a chag sameach.

Living the dream means waking up early, too. Sometimes at six a.m. for a visa appointment (first come, first serve, office opens at eight). You dash down Shlomtzion HaMalkah at 7:42 a.m., and the line is snaking down the block. You fill in forms and ask a million questions, but no one else knows what they’re doing, either. You get a number and you wait your turn and people come and go and the guy at the desk tells you that your form is wrong before you’ve even slipped it under the glass separating the two of you.

It’s right, by the way. So he tells you your birth certificate isn’t valid. Go home and come back another time.

Living the dream involves spending many hours at the bank. You wait and wait and wait, and the guy at the counter is in a bad mood so he tells you to come tomorrow, he doesn’t deal with transactions. You come back and do the whole thing again and this time they tell you to call customer service. You call 100 times, no one answers, so you go back to the bank and start again.

That’s living the dream, too.

You get a dozen messages from the phone company. They show up on your English-language-only phone as blank little boxes. You finally figure out that they’re asking you to pay your bill. You call them and the customer service lady speaks only Arabic. You call another ten times. The rest of them speak Hebrew. They tell you the English-speaking guy will call tomorrow. No one does.

(You could write a book about the phone companies. Once they raised the price of your phone plan. You call and ask why. “Lamah lo?” the representative asks you, affronted. Why not, indeed?)

But you need to pay your bill, so you dare to call again. And again. And again. They transfer you to an automated system. It asks for your mispar zehut (Israeli I.D. number), but you’re a chutznik and you don’t have one. You call again, and they tell you to pay online. The website needs your mispar zehut, too.

You call, and they all speak only Hebrew, but that’s okay, hey, you took Ivrit class in school. You use your polite British voice to request some assistance, and they transfer you to the automated system. You call back and yell in your most aggressive Israeli voice: “Ein li mispar zehut! I just want to pay my stupid bill before you cut off my phone line!” They shout back even louder.

You hang up and call back and try the universal cry-for-sympathy approach. They respond with a stream of Hebrew and put you on hold. You try all week and no one can help you pay your bill and you hate that awful on-hold music.

They cut off your phone line and you get bills in the mail that you can’t understand and you’re moving back home. Tomorrow. Today.

Your previous phone company (yup, you’ve been through all this before) still insists you owe 1,000 shekel. The health insurance claims you’re behind payment when you paid up in full at the clinic. Your tourist visa is about to expire.

But you don’t leave. You’re living the dream, after all. You’re living that exquisite extended honeymoon, the Kosel, the palm trees, the weather. It’s Chanukah, and miracles are dancing in golden oil outside apartment buildings, and it’s also nearly the 25th of December, but you’d never know the difference. There are artisanal doughnuts down Rechov Yaffo. You haven’t seen a piece of tinsel all winter.

You’re living the dream, and the rest of the world is green-eyed and heart-aching, flying in for wondrous visits and breathing the air outside your apartment like it’s aged wine. They have tourist visas and rental phones and guest apartments. You have no phone and you get letters in convoluted Hebrew they never taught you in school. You need a visa and a bank account and a customer service representative who talks English.

But then you walk along the street and light jumps out at you, glass and crystal and silver and oil and steady burning tiny flames. And you blink, and remember that you’re here, you’re living the life the world dreams of, and what’s a few technicalities like a phone and a visa when, hey, you’ve got candles in December?


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 769)

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