Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sarah's Absorption into Israeli Society, Step #4,019

(This is a long post, probably interesting only to those contemplating Aliyah. Otherwise, don't complain if you think it's too boring. No one is forcing you to read my blog!)

I mentioned in my last post that when it comes to things like booking plane tickets, my philosophy is to call a few experts, and make a decision when you see that any further research would not yield enough monetary savings.

When I made aliyah, I applied that philosophy to my "immigrant rights," and had a much easier time than some in furnishing my apartment. You see, under certain conditions, new immigrants can have the customs taxes or the VAT (Value Added Tax) waived for home furnishings and appliances. If you buy something in Israel like a refrigerator or a couch, then you get a special form, take it to the tax authorities, take that BACK to the store, and get your item without paying the taxes. There are a lot of limitations, such as if you buy the item in Israel, it had to have been MADE in Israel. Also, not all stores are part of this system, so if you want to take advantage of the "right," you can't necessarily do it at any store.

I realized very early on that since I'd imported all my furniture in a "lift," live in a studio, and needed to buy only a few things -- most of which are not made in this country, and that I don't have a car in which to easily get myself to stores that provide the tax-free service, that it was not worthwhile to pay attention to this "right" (or, better translated, "privilege") that I have. The only things for which it may have been worth it for me were my desk and my fridge. But I fell in love with a German-made desk I found at Office Depot, which smartly doubles as a Shabbat table in my tiny apartment. And I bought my fridge used from an Ulpan classmate. While everyone else who had just made aliyah was taking copious notes and getting gray hairs over how to get a cheaper toaster oven, I was smugly sipping some Tapuzina and saying "screw it, I'd rather spend an extra 20 dollars on my microwave than spend a whole day running around the city to deprive the government of their VAT."

Were I furnishing a 3-bedroom apartment, and had thousands of shekels at stake, I would have approached this differently, of course. But I wasn't. So I didn't.

The key is to have as low-stress a klitah as possible, and that meant, sometimes, completely tuning out the avalanche of information being exchanged on the immigrant Yahoo groups, because most of it was irrelevent to me anyhow, at least for now. And sometimes it meant spending an extra few shekels here or there, because spending half a day going across Jerusalem on a bus in the July heat to save 35 shekels, when really you should be in Ulpan learning how to say things like "bank deposit" and "job interview," simply is not worth it.

And there were some "privileges" I paid some attention to, in the hopes I'll need them someday, but since I didn't need them now, I tried not to get too crazy about it. I paid only a little attention to what my "privileges" are in getting breaks on mortgages or the taxes on cars, because I can afford neither a mortgage nor a car right now, regardless of how much taxes the government might waive for me, a poor, helpless new immigrant.

Those first few months after my plane landed, I was dealing with moving into an apartment, breaking the lease on it (long story), finding another new apartment, learning my way around, getting a bank account, getting phone service, unpacking my lift, learning to pronounce my street name with a rolled R so that taxi drivers would understand which street I'm talking about, signing up for health insurance, getting ADSL and internet service (not the same thing here), getting a cell phone, replacing the small appliances I'd left behind because stuff here works on 220 V, learning in Ulpan, checking out shules, trying to remember the names of all the new people I was meeting, and getting frustrated because I -- the English teacher Journalist writer -- did not know how to express the most simple of thoughts in Hebrew.

One thing I did NOT accomplish during that time was getting my Israeli driver's license. Again, many of my friends had to do it, because they live in the suburbs with kids and needed a car right away, and therefore needed an Israeli driver's license immediately. But I have no car and no desperate need to rent one. I get along just fine with taxis and buses. I simply made sure that before my right to use my American license expired, I filled out the necessary paperwork with the Ministry of Transportation so that later, when I was ready, I'd have to take only one or two driving lessons, rather than the 30 (I think) or so required of new drivers here. Once that paperwork was done, I then had two years before I had to think about getting the license. I figured "I'll get settled in my new country, and then I'll worry about the driver's license."

Well, a few weeks ago, I finally realized that I have few excuses anymore not to get this done. I finished all the "urgent" stuff long ago, and feel a lot more settled and much lessed stressed, so it's time to think about the not-so-urgent stuff. I called a driving instructor and took a lesson (in mostly Hebrew!). He let me drive around for 45 minutes, and said all I need to do to prepare for the test is to learn the street signs and remember to keep both hands on the wheel at the exam; otherwise I'm ready (who knew that in Israel, the One Way sign is a blue square with a white arrow pointing up?). The way it works here is that the instructor applies for a test appointment for you, and calls you to tell you when it is.

Well, he called today. I might have my driving test tomorrow morning! Egads! I unburied my English-language Israeli driver's manual that I oh-so-intelligently bought many moons ago, pulled out the poster with all the road signs, taped it to my wall, and have been standing in front of it for the last 30 minutes, memorizing the signs for "no parking" and "no entry" and "reduction in number of lanes ahead," etc.

I'm not embarrassed about announcing here that my test is tomorrow, before knowing whether I've passed, because everyone knows that the Transportation Ministry is in cahoots with the instructors, and the whole system is corrupt, and if I fail it is not a personal comment on my driving abilities.

Anyway, all that was just to say that the next step in my klitah happens tomorrow. It only took me 19 months to get to it!

Au Revoir, Paris. Bonjour, car rental and the Galil!

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