An 'A' for effort

"Most were tested in their native language. You, however, just arrived and took the test in Hebrew."

cars traffic 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
cars traffic 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The new oleh doctor who found it easier to convert his medical license than his driver's license ("Driving us mad," March 9) may be intrigued by the following story from another time about obtaining a driver's license. In the early days of the state (1951), shortly after arriving as a new olah, I applied for a driver's license. At that time, possession of a valid US driver's license automatically exempted you from the practical, driving part of the test, though I did have to pass a vision test. The main requirement was passing the theory test, which was a written examination. I walked into the examination room unaware of the ordeal ahead of me. It was a bright sunny day and I was a starry-eyed new immigrant, all smiles and euphoria at hearing the Hebrew of my Bible studies transformed into a living language. The test was given in a bleak classroom with about 30 other candidates present. On the wall, not far from my aisle seat, was a large-scale diagram displaying the nuts and bolts of a car motor and its properties. At the appointed hour, the examiner appeared, wearing shorts and sandals, looking like he was headed for a baseball game. He distributed the test papers. Eureka! Only one page and only multiple-choice questions. "Are you taking the test in Hebrew?" he asked, knowing I was a new immigrant. "Yes," I replied, not realizing I had a choice. "But I'm not familiar with most of the technical terms in Hebrew. May I look at the wall chart for help?" "That's why it's there," he told me kindly. I managed to deal with the questions on brakes, steering and road rules. Other questions were gibberish because I didn't know the key root words in Hebrew. What were hiluchim (gears)? I got up to examine the wall chart, but it was of no help: The type was too small and the diagram too intricate. I returned to my seat, made a wild guess and was about to tick off the square of my choice on the test paper. At that moment, I had an uncomfortable feeling that someone was standing next to me in the aisle. I looked up to find the examiner peering over my shoulder, looking sternly at the test paper and my pen. Unconsciously, I moved my pen to the next square. When I looked up at him this time, the stern look had relaxed into an imperceptible nod. I was shocked. He remained at my side for several more minutes, then returned to his desk at the front of the room. When time was up I handed in my test paper and waited my turn while he tallied up the results. The A I received left me stunned and embarrassed. "Are you sure that's what I deserve," I blurted out. "Look, lady," he replied. "Most of the people in this room have been in the country for many years, and they took the test in their native language. You, on the other hand, just arrived and took the test in Hebrew. Doesn't that deserve an A for effort?" That was almost 60 years ago, when the most important thing by far in this country was helping new immigrants in every way possible. The writer is a veteran olah, freelance writer and author of Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948.