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3 May

POPSICLE (Photo credit: roboppy)

Israeli soldiers are generally beloved by the public, whether they are in the midst of their regular service, or on reserve duty. The rest of the population, most of whom have also been soldiers at some point, often go out of their way to make the burden of service slightly more tolerable. In this particular case, a reserve unit arrived in Gush Etzion this week, to perform routine patrols and guard the areas where civilians congregate, which have the potential to be flash points. After having rain two weeks ago, this week was particularly hot, which meant that the soldiers on duty were the grateful recipients of popsicles. Although I have not yet served in the Army, I can imagine that having a cold sugary treat must be extremely refreshing during a four or six hour shift.

On the afternoon in question, a large crowd had gathered to wait for the bus, as well as to attempt to find an appropriate driver with whom to hitchhike. Two families were waiting, one with two children, the other with a young son. The soldiers on duty had just received and consumed several popsicles, but had a few left over, so they began offering the frozen delights to the travelers who had assembled. All declined. One of the soldiers spotted the children, and immediately instructed his comrade to give the popsicles to the kids, so he gave one to the family with two children, and one to the family with a son. Not surprisingly, arguments ensued.

The first: A parent whose kids were not present, began chastising the mother for allowing her child to eat so close to dinner time. While also telling the soldier that he should not be giving children sweets without asking their parents first.

The second: The children themselves began arguing about why one received, and one did not. Meanwhile the solo child in the other family looked with an expression of satisfaction as he alternated between consuming his popsicle and smearing it on his face.

The third: The soldiers themselves begin arguing over the wisdom of stirring up a previously calm situation, with one soldier suggesting that they should have just eaten them instead of being generous. Another soldier jumped in to say that they should have just left enough for all three kids.

Nothing like a little generosity to ignite the perpetual Israeli desire to engage in a disagreement.


24 Apr
English: , alternative version as used on the ...

State Seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Israelis and perhaps Jews as a whole have a propensity for comparing their most trying experiences. Whether these are stories of true desperation and difficulty, or just complaining about the line at the bakery, each person will in turn attempt to out-kvetch the other participants in the conversation. In Israel, where the bureaucracy often rears its ugly head, there are plenty of opportunities for friends, neighbors, and colleagues to bond over who has experienced the worst of Israeli bureaucracy.

Over lunch the other day in yeshiva, we struck up a conversation that somehow triggered the sharing of our varied experiences with the offices of the Israeli government as well as State governments in America. Once we began the kvetch-sesh as I have come to call it, there was no stopping, it was a game of oneupsmanship where the winner was actually the biggest loser. Using the snowball metaphor might work here to describe the progression of the conversation, but instead a more appropriate example is probably the back-up that happens in any government office when all two people working decide to take their hour-long coffee and cigarette breaks at the same time. No matter how hard they aren’t working, the line will never shrink.

There is the typical instruction to bring forms ‘x’ ‘y’ but that form ‘z’ was not required. Upon arrival at the office in question, after waiting in line, the customer is told that form ‘z’ is necessary while the other two are no longer in use. Accessing some benefits requires a letter, or “ishur” from a rabbi, doctor, or other recognized official. What you are not told is that those benefits require a renewal, including a new letter. Never mind the fact that the rabbi’s letter which vouched that the customer was born to a Jewish mother was valid in 2010, they want to see that in 2013, the person in question was still born to a Jewish mother. Of course there is the ever popular, “If you come back tomorrow, we’ll get it all straightened out.” The worst mistake is walking out of the office, because unbeknownst to you, the office will be closed tomorrow. Hooray! A government minister is coming to visit, yes, even during the hours designated for public reception. Applying for a city tax discount in one municipality? How about then being required to take a day off from work in order to go to the municipal office in another city in order to receive verification by way of the vaunted “ishur” that you did not use that benefit in the previous year. Three national service girls are sitting behind the desk in the Office of Immigrant Absorption, the phone is ringing, and ringing, and ringing. One girl turns to the other and asks, “Can you turn the ringer down, it’s really annoying,” What?! this office is supposed to help the absorption process not give new immigrants kidney stones. And of course, the grandaddy of them all, the IDF, where the motto must be, “Why put you through the bureaucratic processes today, when you can come back and attempt them tomorrow?”

So, how does one deal with such situations? Laugh. But only after the fact, because in the moment it is more important to push your way to the front.