This week on Café Oleh, our panelists weight in on their experiences of Israeli bureaucracy.
Each week you''ll hear from our resident aliya and Judaism bloggers about their experiences, their hardships, and the gratifications of moving to Israel.
1. Is what we''ve heard true? Is Israeli bureaucracy as bad as everyone says it is?
I think all bureaucracies are rather difficult to navigate. We tend to forget that in our former countries, our subordinates or hired help processed most paperwork for us, and as such, that similar paperwork existed elsewhere. Consider the ins and outs of filing income tax, of buying and selling property or businesses, and the like.
Here, it''s more difficult to process information, especially vital papers, in a language that is either foreign or less-than-facile. Getting the gist of the culture, of the actual versus the literal meaning of words, and of nonverbal signals, is the toughest part of learning how to navigate any communication, especially bureaucratic communication. However, in many ways, the Israeli government is much kinder to immigrants than other nations'' bureaus of absorption ever were. Think about the goings on at Ellis Island, for starters.
For the most part, we were pleasantly surprised by most of our bureaucracy experiences here, save for a few.
Yes! Olim coming from cultures where “the customer is always right” will be surprised to find that no such principle exists here. Israeli bureaucrats seem to believe their services are generous favors. I''ve heard that showing up with free cake and coffee can help the situation, but I''ve yet to try it.
2. What was the most difficult part on navigating the Israeli bureaucracy? Was it more challenging once you were actually in Israel or while you were still in your home country?
It was much harder when we got here. My husband''s status was a big issue. After much discussion and review, we''d THOUGHT we resolved in the States… Only to arrive in Israel to find that it wasn''t as resolved as we thought.
The most difficult part is definitely dealing with hotline ladies. Hotline ladies are the goddesses of all things trivial. They control you by controlling little pieces of information you can’t function without. They can choose to withhold important details you need in order to navigate the bureaucracy efficiently - effectively condemning you to additional hours of wait time at government offices, clutching your collection of important documents like a prayer.
3. Tell us about getting your teudat zehut? Switching your drivers license over? Applying for aliya benefits such as free ulpan? Getting your degree accredited? Choose one or two of these bureaucratic hurdles and discuss: what made these experiences most challenging? Did you succeed? What was key to your success?
[Degree accreditation] I had to receive sealed copies from all three of my degree granting schools. I was also told I would have to sit for oral exams, but that never occurred. All in all, however, over the course of the many trips to the Office of Education; most of the time, multilingual, kind, even compassionate employees helped me to understand and then to process the materials I had to collect.
How did I succeed? At times, I''ve broken down in tears. Sometimes I''ve brought Hebrew-speaking friends or employees along with me. Sometimes, I''ve tried to look fierce or friendly. All of the time, though, the best means for coping with bureaucracy has been to remember that the bureaucrats are people, too. An authentic smile, a sincere thank-you, a non-manipulative "please" or "thank-''you," too often have been missing from public servants days.
The first year is a nice reprieve. Now that we''re here on year two, we have to take care of things like getting our Israeli driver''s license and passports. Not looking forward to the driving lessons: You would think that simply by not being an Israeli born driver, I would get my license by default.
In typical Nefesh B''Nefesh style, I was invited to pick my Teudat Zehut up at a fair where I could, along with other olim, find out about different cellphone and bank plans. Read: a singles party. That was my introduction to the Israeli phenomenon of being asked out, or receiving offers from older woman to set me up, at bus stops, supermarkets, post offices, etc. In this country, everywhere anytime is fair game for shidduchim (matchmaking).
One benefit I am entitled to as a new olah is to have tuition for my BA covered. The way it works: you lay out the money, and then fax the updated status of your tuition to Minhal Studentim. Then, two weeks later, after calling repeatedly to ask why you haven''t been reimbursed yet, you will be informed that your fax took a wrong turn on its way over to their machine and never arrived. On your third try, the fax will finally get it right. You''ll repeat this once or twice a semester. I recommend investing in a fax machine, or befriending someone who owns one.
4. What tips do you have for navigating Israeli bureaucracy?
Patience and gratitude. Most government employees made salaries that would seem laughable in uninitiated North American eyes. Nonetheless, for the most part, these men and women are dedicated to service and are willing to give their time, their energy and their hearts to helping new folk. Just as the emergency rooms here are filled with only the practical, rather than with designer furniture and bandaids, the government offices, here, too, are filled with necessities, not nicities. New immigrants are well advised to temper their standards to meet those of local levels.
Lower your expectations. The lower the better.
There are different strategies for navigating bureaucracy in Israel; when I first came to Israel, I used to argue until I got what I wanted, which was pretty effective. Since then, I''ve found a healthier way to deal with a tricky situation: threaten to cry. There is nothing an Israeli bureaucrat won''t do to avoid dealing with a crier. You don''t actually need to start crying, just put your head in your hands and say you feel the tears coming.
5. Tell us your favorite (or most dreaded-but-humorous) story about the horrors of navigating Israeli bureaucracy? Wax-dramatic and make us laugh.
(Shrugs). I think Israeli government employees fare much better than do their international counterparts in using the resources at hand. I''ve seen many examples of this. Once, rather than boot a car or issue a ticket, a police officer helped a driver make change for the meter. Also, I witnessed municipal garbage collectors help an elderly neighbor unload a car. Equally true, here, the government subsidizes many types of religious education. Whereas our government is fairly socialist in nature, and as such, not the sort of system in which I was raised, our government is staffed, largely, by Jews. Jews, always, conscientiouslyor not, report to a higher authority.
I once called the Ministry of Absorption and had quite an educational experience while on hold. Instead of the usual elevator music, they were playing a recording of a man saying random Hebrew words and a woman responding to each word with its synonym. Matos! Avirone! L’Dabber! L’Socheach! Yareach! Sohar! Why this was necessary I don’t know. An exercise in human persistence? How much can one person stand before they give up? Kesef! Mamone! Bachura! Ne’ara!