Having just finished the season of miracles, I thought I would report on a few miracles I experienced about a week or so ago. I had lost my car registration, so I went to one of the Israeli Ministry of Transportation offices here in Jerusalem to see if I could get a replacement. The Ministry of Transportation here provides the services of a Department of Motor Vehicles in the U.S.
Israel's bureaucracy is famous for being, well, bureaucratic. Historically and sometimes still today it can be frustrating, seemingly uncaring, rude, and basically not easy. Add in language challenges and impatient clerks, not to mention impatient citizens jockeying for position in line. Speaking of lines, they weren't really part of Israeli culture until about 20 years ago. Theoretically, yes. In reality, no.
Some wise advice I received as my wife and I started our path toward citizenship was to always consider your first visit to an office an exploratory, information-gathering expedition, not one likely to result in achieving your objective. We were told to consider it an opportunity to get through some pages in your book.
Truth be told, our experience has not been that bad. At times, it has been surprisingly easy and pleasant. Israeli bureaucracies, along with restaurants and service industries in general, have improved immensely in the last few years. Still, given DMV's generally, this was an encounter I was not looking forward to.
One must consider the context: In Syria, just across our northeast border, people are slaughtering each other, with the death toll now reportedly approaching 60,000. The hatred and bloodshed is now spilling over into Lebanon to the north. To the south, Egypt is in turmoil, with dissidents stifled and often imprisoned and beaten as the Muslim Brotherhood manipulates the new "democracy" to its advantage.
Even in usually stable and "moderate" Jordan, the Hashemite regime, which has no historical basis for ruling the population, three quarters of which are Palestinian, is experiencing tremors.(Only in the Middle East in the 21st century are countries ruled by kings considered "moderate.")
And in the new "non-member state" of Palestine recognized by the UN, the president of 60% of its population is now serving the eighth year of his four year term and was recently condemned by an Arab human rights group for his government's repression, while the Gazan prime minister of 40% of the non-member state heads a government branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Europe and represses anyone who objects to its rule or imposition of Islamist principles.
In the middle of this, I went to stand in a line in the outer room of the Ministry of Transportation office in the Talpiot neighborhood's shopping district in the south side of town. In the next room I could see about 10 clerks at counters and a roomful of people who had taken their numbers and were seated. They looked comatose and I feared that that would soon be my fate. I wasn't sure if my book was long enough.
In front and behind me in line were Israeli Arabs, Ethiopians, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Jews from Arab and North African nations, and a couple of folks that looked a bit like me. We were waiting to talk to this young woman behind a glass window with one of those little holes for talking, or shouting, through.
Miracles? I should say so. Firstly, everyone stood in line politely and quietly. No jostling, no shouting. Secondly, several people who had been in line and were sent somewhere to get or do something, came up to the front, handed in or said whatever they were supposed to, and left. No one abused this "cut in front" privilege and no one objected to it. Unbelievable miracle.
More miracles? For sure. I got to the front in about five minutes. The young clerk was courteous. Just when I thought she was going to consign me to the roomful of comatose Israelis for the afternoon , she hit a couple of keys on the computer, gave me a new registration, and told me to go across the street to the post office to pay the small fee.
I was astounded. I was gleeful. Maximum time at the window: two minutes. This has to be a world record not just for Israeli government offices, but for DMV's worldwide. I was tempted to call Ripley's. Across the street to the post office, five more minutes, and I was done. A new registration in hand.
The final miracle: I did the entire transaction in Hebrew, which is a testament more to the ability of young Israelis to decipher pantomime and heavy American accents than to my language abilities.