Only in Israel–Bank Story

I think that West Bank Mama was looking for something a little more positive in honor of her blogoversary feature, “Only in Israel.” I hope she’ll forgive me and post it anyway.

When we bought our apartment in the early 1990’s, we were entitled to a government grant and a reduced-rate mortgage. After submitting the numerous documents and permissions, the bank finally called to say that the check was ready. At around 8 in the morning I strapped my toddler into his stroller and walked to the bank, figuring that I would be back in time for his morning nap. I was seven months pregnant.

At the bank, I waited a few minutes before the clerk called me. She handed me the check, gave me a form to sign, and asked to see my “teudat oleh.” A look of indignation crossed her face as she examined it. “But this document is butal!” she exclaimed. She reached out and retrieved the check.

The teudat oleh is a passport-sized booklet, used to document all of the financial benefits that are allocated to olim chadashim (new immigrants). When we received ours at the airport, several of the pages had been stamped “butal,” or void, with large black letters. The stamp appeared on pages referring to oleh rights that were no longer in force. Unfortunately, the hand of the individual who had stamped our teudat oleh had slipped, and the marking appeared diagonally in the bottom margin of one of the valid pages, and partially on one or two of the other pages. This is what the clerk had noticed. We had already presented the teudah to various officials without anyone commenting on it. I tried to explain this but she would have none of it. She made a phone call. “You need to go to the absorption ministry and get a letter saying why your teudat oleh says “butal” on it,” she instructed me.

I saw there was no arguing with her so I packed up my toddler and my belly and walked the few blocks to the address she had given me. The sun was hot. The ministry was no longer there! By this point I was in tears. Fortunately someone was able to tell me where the ministry had moved to, and I shlepped to the bus. At the absorption ministry they were sympathetic and ushered me past the dozens of waiting Russian speakers straight into the director’s office. The director wrote me a letter on official ministry stationery, stating that I was entitled to all of the rights of an oleh. I examined the letter. “But the clerk said that the letter needs to say why the teudah was stamped “butal.” “Don’t worry,” was her comforting reply. “If I write that you are entitled to all these rights, you are also entitled to the mortgage. If the teudah were really void, it would have been marked in a much more obvious way.” Logical, right?

Leaving the ministry, I had another stroke of luck. Even though I only knew about ten people in my town, one of them drove by and offered us a ride. She even had a(n ancient) carseat. She apologized for not being able to wait and take us home from the bank. I showed the letter to the clerk. Predictably the clerk said, “The letter doesn’t say why the teudah is butal.” Another phone call. Waiting. I really don’t remember how I managed to keep my toddler occupied all this time, but by now he was going crazy. I went to a supermarket to get something for us to eat. Thus fortified, I tried approaching another clerk. The first clerk saw me and said, “Don’t ask her; she won’t be able to help you.” It was 12:00 and the bank was closing soon.

Finally, I had an idea. I took my toddler to the nearest payphone and called my husband at work (he recalls that I was not in good shape at that point). I suggested he call the bank official we had dealt with while negotiating the bank’s portion of the mortgage. He called the central office of the (small) bank and berated the clerk who answered the phone. They put him through to the CEO! In another ten minutes, the check was in my pocket.

It seems that neither the branch clerk nor her boss (who both happened to be female) was willing to risk giving me the check on the chance that the bank wouldn’t be reimbursed by the government for its portion of the mortgage. Only the more senior, male official was willing to authorize the transfer. Lessons learned: 1. Start at the top. 2. Sometimes a woman needs help from a man.

I also participated when WBM asked for posts relating aliyah stories. They were among my first posts!


  1. Lesson 3: More women need to be at the top.

    Lesson 4: The people at the top need to decentralize and stop micromanaging.

    Maybe someday I’ll tell the story of me vs. the electric company.

  2. Jerusalem Joe says

    i don’t understand why this is an “only in israel” story.
    bureaucracy is just as bad, if not worse, in the states and certainly in europe.
    in any case – you have my retroactive sympathy for that horrible episode.

  3. mother in israel says

    Anon–agree on both points. Let me know where you publish your story!
    JJ–You’re right, and immigrants to the US, for example, often experience much worse bureaucracy than we do. At any rate, I think it’s a good story.

  4. Ah, but there’s yet another “only in Israel” moment within your “only in Israel” experience- the way you, a pregnant woman with a toddler, got to go ahead of everyone else in line. I think I’ve even blogged about that happening to me- I don’t think that would happen in any other country!

  5. mother in israel says

    RR–absolutely, and getting a ride at just the right moment was also amazing. It wasn’t all bad!