Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Is this supposed to break me, or inspire me to fight the system?

I have been trying to sleep. And I can't. 

It's almost 2:30 in the morning and I really need to sleep, for the past 2 days I've been trying to process this experience and understand how to fit it into my life and now it's keeping me up despite my best efforts to relax, to think about other things - I even drank some wine to help me relax. To no avail.

I have to express this.

On Monday I took the driving test that is required by Israeli law to transfer my foreign license. According to the law (as written on the DMV website) this test is supposed to be a very short test to see that the driver does in fact know how to handle a car. This is to deter situations where people forge foreign licenses and then come to claim an Israeli one. Or so I'm told. Because once upon a time an Oleh was able to present their valid license and receive a valid license. I don't fully understand why they can't just do a routine check with the DMV in the state of the issued license to check if it's valid. Especially between Israel and the US - where I am still a citizen and where I pay taxes. (meaning, the two countries have an allied relationship. and some would say even an interdependency - whatever let's not get into that.)

An immigrant is given 2 chances to pass this driving test after which they must take a written test and then a regular driving test. Last year I made all the arrangements, found a driving instructor, scheduled a test and failed. You know what? I failed. I hadn't driven in nearly 6 months because we don't have a car. The instructor I chose was terrible and I have since found out that everyone in the industry knows that. (If you live in the North and you want to check that your instructor in Kiryat Shmona is not this guy, you can contact.me - I'm not going to slander him, but I'll tell you who he's not.) Anyway, on that test, I actually drove into a street that had a Do Not Enter sign. (note that the sing was extremely faded and not in full view, but I violated it all the same.)

This time I came prepared. I found a really good instructor - Niv. (You can call me for his number if you need someone) I still don't have a car, and am technically no longer allowed to drive on my NJ license cuz I've been here more than a year, so I did the right thing. I took a bunch of lessons in Kiryat Shmona, he took me on all the test routes, he pointed out the hard bits, I did great. By the time the tester sat down next to me, I was feeling totally Zen. I felt completely confident in my ability to drive, I felt completely confident that all outcomes are in God's hands and we proceeded. I even was able to overcome my Brooklyn habit of always being ready at the gas! 

There was another girl in the car with me, a teenager who was going to be taking her test second and who had already failed two or three times.

I drove beautifully, no problems - then Hashem sent me a challenge, and I slipped. It seems that a particular small street in Kiryat Shmona starts off as a one way street and then without any signage becomes a two way street. I didn't drive on the wrong side of the street. That wasn't the issue. What I did do was when I was asked to make a left at the end of that street, I signaled and then moved to the left to make the turn from the left side which is the law for a one way street. Once my mistake was pointed out to me I immediately (and calmly with no hesitation or nervousness) corrected myself and continued driving. 

You're asking yourself how this is fair because how was I supposed to know that it changed to a two way? As everyone who drives in Israel knows, there are no lines on the street. On this particular day, no one drove up on my left either, and it happened that there were no cars parked facing the wrong way (although as everyone in Israel knows that wouldn't mean anything either.) What did happen was that I crossed an intersection. And when a street reaches an intersection - all previous bets are off. This includes changes in speed limit. If there is a sign indicating a change in speed limit, this means until a new sign or until an intersection - that's important information all you olim!

So anyway, everything else went just fine and the tester was actually quite nice about it, and I still felt confident. The girl who took her test next was awful! I'm sorry, but my gage these days is whether or not I am made to feel like hurling, and she was so choppy, and she was speeding several times - which he pointed out, and she accelerated into a dangerous turn instead of breaking - which he pointed out, and then she stayed in the left lane of a larger two lane street (on which she was speeding) which he pointed out, which you can also get a ticket for in this country.

When we got out of the car I felt very confident that although I had slipped up, I proved what I was supposed to prove, and the tester was aware that this was a foreign transfer and that the story was finally over.

At 4pm my instructor called and tried to find my name on his list of people who passed. He wasn't sure of my last name, even when I repeated it but he said he couldn't find it on the list and he was sorry. He told me that when he gets my form the next day we would know why I failed and that was it.

I decided that mistakes happen, and continued to pray that this was a fluke. Because I mean, we have to get to Jerusalem for Pesach - a family of 5 with suitcases and not to mention my belly. And not only that, but we are going to be there for a week and a half, and had planned on taking some trips since it is the only time of year that Yoram has vacation. And I was gonna keep asking for what I felt was right until I had a clear answer that the answer is no. (you know like kids do to their parents all the time.)

But that's not all. If I have to take this test over it means the following - getting to Kiryat Shmona and paying to take the written test one day, I won't be able to retake the driving test until next month. That means another lesson or two since I won't have driven in that time, it means getting back and forth to Kiryat Shmona, it means finding places for my kids after school... It means that I am being made a victim of this stupid beaurocracy that is complete nonsense and that is so ingrained that it is impossible to fight.

Today at around 1pm (after many tearful prayers and a lot of processing) my instructor called me and I was prepared for an answer - whatever it was.
(the conversation - mostly in Hebrew, went like this)
"Ayelet, I don't know why you failed." 
"on your green form, he wrote 'fail' but the test form where he needs to write why is missing"
"what do you mean? so maybe there was a mistake. I don't accept that. Unless I see why he's failing me I'm going to fight this! I proved that I can drive, that is all that was required of me on this test. What happened to the other girl?"
"She passed." 
"What??? She told you the mistakes she made! How did he pass a teenager that failed 3 times and made clear mistakes and not me? A mother of 3 with 14 years of driving experience? What do we do now?"
"Ayelet, drop it, he can do whatever he wants. Tomorrow I will go into the DMV and find out what happened to your form. But that's about it. If he says you failed you failed."
"I don't accept it, Niv. Not until I see that form."
"But you made a left turn from the wrong lane. He can fail you for that."
"Niv, this is not ok. If I had the form I would understand, but maybe there is room to try and fight this - because you know I can drive!"
"So write a letter and I will take it with me tomorrow. Write exactly what you told me. But this is Israel, Ayelet, you can't fight this. It's not America."

We hung up.

Most Olim after a couple of years accept the israeli mentality of "Ayn Ma la'asot" (nothing can be done). That's the way it is, there's no fighting it. So I'm being reticent. I believe that everything comes from Hashem. But I don't believe that means that we lie down and accept injustice. 

I want to fight this, but I feel that I'm alone. and one little shnook from NY is not going to make any sort of difference against the department of transportation. But I feel that my rights are being violated - and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Maybe it wasn't in your driving test, but somewhere in this ridiculous system, you've been taken advantage of because you didn't know the language or all the rules and they used that against you. Sometime during your Aliyah you've been made to feel unwelcome by the very authorities that should be supporting you.

I need some help. And honest opinions. Am I out of my mind? Am I supposed to just accept this and take the test again (and everything that comes with it) and pay another ~800 shekel when all is said and done? And just chalk it up to "ayn ma laasot?" I'm in Israel now? Or should I rally the forces, find others who oppose this and who have experienced this and launch a full scale attack on this insanity. It has to stop somewhere. Just as there is a reason for everything, there is also a reason that a large percentage of world Jewery was exiled to North America before coming here. We have a different experience. We know better. Should we not be trying to make things better for everyone here? 

I want to go in there tomorrow with Niv and find out what happened - but Niv's exact words to me on the topic were, (in Hebrew) "Ayelet, let it go. It's a waste of your energy to fight this office. You don't know them, they don't care about anyone! If you spit on them, they'll piss on you. They don't care. It's a waste of your energy that is better spent studying for the written exam, and moving on."

Obviously, as evidenced by the fact that I'm writing about this at 3:15am, I'm not ready to accept this. What is the next step then? Suck it up and get used to it? Or try to make a change?

(And while we're on the topic - anyone know what the maximum penalty is for driving on a foreign license past the alloted time? Just curious.) 


  1. Oy, that's so frustrating - as I was reading I hoped there was a happier ending :(
    Taking my driving test to transfer my license (and the paperwork that went with it) was probably one of the more stressful things I did here. My gut reaction is that if Niv (who probably deals with the DMV all the time) is telling you it's a waste of energy, then let it go - however, I find that specifically in Israel, if you can get to the right person (whether at Misrad Hapnim, the post office, or maybe even the DMV) and personalize your story (not attack them) - you can sometimes get them on your side and have them help you. Of course if that does not work you may end up feeling much worse, but if you feel you can't move on it might be something you can try. Good Luck!

  2. Oh, I'd fight that! I suspect that the other woman failed & you passed, and the tester got you two mixed up. Don't let it drop, especially since that other woman is an obviously dangerous driver!

    I tried a quick Google search, but I can't get the Israel Ministry of Transport website to load. The "new immigrant information" says that the MOT website has all the answers to all your driving & license questions! I would think the worst they could do is fine you, and then you could also argue that your "failing" was a mistake since it was obviously the other woman who failed & you had tried to get it straightened out before leaving. And, as you would say, put it in God's hands. Good luck to you. It's nice to "hear" from you!