Thursday, September 16, 2010

Surrealism in Jerusalem

After being rejected by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv for submitting a request for a social security number for my son, I had to shlep my way to the US Consulate in an Eastern neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Google maps was wrong, and I couldn't go through an intersection I had planned on going through (road works, the lightrail train, etc.), yet I managed to get there only a few minutes late after my scheduled appointment time of 8:30 AM.

Not surprisingly, I knew the person on the line before me (we even work at the same company)...and met a few other people inside that I knew.

Rule number 1. I've been dealing with the US Embassy in Israel for years... My advice; speak in English to everyone, including the security guards. The only person I spoke Hebrew to, was the lady responsible for providing the "courier" service to get my US passport. She started speaking to me in Hebrew, so I replied that way as well. I spoke to everyone else in English, though I did say, "Shukran" (thank you) the the Arab security guard.

Rule number 2. No matter how bureaucratic things may get, always be polite, say "good morning", "please" and "thank you" as often as you can, and smile at the workers when you speak to them.

Rule number 3. Bring copies of everything document with you....and bring lots of documents. You never know what they might also ask for.

The clerk handling my social security form was very impressed with my copies. I told her they were even approved and notarized by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, which impressed her even more. Then she stopped, looked up at me and said -- if you were already at the embassy, why didn't they process you?!

As my friend Lurker told me on the phone later, "she must not have gotten the memo, that residents of the "West Bank" aren't allowed to use US citizen services at the embassy in Tel-Aviv, and we have to shlep to Jerusalem."

She was shocked that I was refused service there...but gladly helped.

Then I needed to renew my US passport. While sitting in the waiting area, the following surrealistic scene played itself out before me.

A couple was there needing some sort of official document, and they were told they needed 2 witnesses to observe the signing of the document. The guy from the couple seemed like a real character and scanned the room for an "appropriate" pair of witnesses.

He ambled over to a middle aged, portly Arab man, and politely asked him, "Excuse me sir, are you a US citizen?" The man replied in heavily accented Arabic-English, "yes, I am US citizen."
"Would you be willing to witness the signing of an official document for me?"

The guy then walked to the other end of the room, and approached a Chareidi-looking woman who was holding a baby, and asked her, "Excuse me miss, are you a US citizen, and would you be willing to wittiness the signing of a document for me?"

She replied, "I am a US citizen, but I can't be a witness"

He replied, "For the first time in your life, you can now be a 'kosher' witness, since this isn't anything Jewish can be a 100% kosher witness..."

So the unlikely pair of witnesses observed the signing of the document, much to the amusement of the rest of us watching.

There was a bookshelf in the corner of the room, with the oddest collection of pleasure reading books...and Jewish religious texts.

Probably the only place in the world with such an odd collection, and the only place where the above scene could have played out.

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NormanF said...

The US Consulate is the de facto embassy to the Palestinian Arabs. Its mission profile omits any mention of the fact Jerusalem is Israel's capital never mind that it is a Jewish-majority city.

Shmilda said...

So many comments... but for now:

Rule #1, when flying in or out of Israel, English to everyone, especially the security guards and "seelectors". Speaking Hebrew just leads to lots of suspicious questions: Are you sure you are not dodging the draft? Are you really sure? Where did you sleep last night? Were you watching your suitcase throughout the night? Where did you sleep the night before? Were you watching..." In English, they just stick to one or two standard questions: Did anyone give you anything to carry? No? Have a nice flight.

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