A Tale of Israeli Bureaucracy: The Ministry of Interior
JNS.org – I remember taking my brother to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Seattle to get his driver’s license. We arrived early in the morning, took a number as we walked in, sat down in the orderly bench seats, and quietly awaited our number to be called. The rowdiest the DMV got was when my brother said to me, “Who even wants to work at the DMV? It’s not like it’s anyone’s dream job. I’ve never heard anyone say [in a monotone voice]: Licensing is my passion.” I chuckled and everyone around me shot a passive-aggressive look at me, their eyes telling me to quiet down.
Fast-forward five and a half years later, and there I was at one of Israel’s most notoriously boring bureaucratic offices. And boy, was it different from the DMV in America.
First of all, instead of a quick 20-minute wait (which I thought was long back then), I was there for a whopping three hours and 45 minutes. Not exaggerating by even one minute.
It was a good (but false) sign when I was asked to check my pepper spray at the door and received a receipt for it. For a bureaucratic office, I was impressed. But I had made this judgment too soon.
I walked into the main waiting room, which curiously was full of haredim (a much higher percentage than you would have seen on the streets of Jerusalem). Because I only needed to turn in a piece of paper, I went to the front desk to ask if I could just turn it in somewhere. She laughed in my face and a nice haredi woman behind me told me that nothing goes as planned in this office. Nothing is clear, and I will certainly get different answers from everyone. She said that the first time she came here, she cried.
I took a seat in the waiting room, and the floor was covered in babies. They were crawling on the floor, picking up anything they could find and putting it in their mouths — their parents nowhere to be found. A baby next to me started puking on the ground. Joy.
After an hour of waiting, my head began to hurt and I was very, very hungry. I decided that I would rather be in solitary confinement than in the Ministry of Interior for a year.
At last, I was called into a cubicle officiated by a lady with bleached-blonde hair and tanned, wrinkled skin. The look on her face told me that she didn’t give a schnitzel about helping me. She took one look at me and turned to her friend, complaining about her aching chest (which took 25 seconds) and then stamped my paper that I had filled out yesterday (another five seconds). The whole thing literally took 30 seconds, and most of it was spent complaining.
One would think I could have just turned it in rather than waiting for hours. In such a technologically advanced country, you would thing they would come up with a more efficient way to serve customers. Can’t they give us buzzers or text us when our number is coming up?
I asked the lady if I could complete another bureaucratic process, and she told me no, even though I knew I could, so I waited for another person to help me. While waiting, the same lady yelled at me from across the room because, “I already told you that you couldn’t do that!” When I did get another person to help, it was done with ease.
Top three lessons learned: First, bring Hebrew homework, food, Advil and possibly alcohol. Second, arrive ten minutes before the office opens and the process will be “chick chuck” (very fast). Third, if you come to the Ministry of Interior and get a D number, just leave. If you don’t follow these three guidelines, you will likely spend more time at the office than the time recommended to arrive at the airport prior to an international flight. And have a whopping headache.
After all that time, I was finally done at the Ministry of Interior — just to find out that I need to return in 10 days…Oy.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.