An Israeli’s single most important document is his Teudat Zehut, or Israeli Identification Card. This card is needed for the most basic of tasks, such as registering for schools, opening a bank account, and leasing a car.
Generally speaking, olim from North America receive their Teudat Zehut upon arrival in Ben Gurion Airport. However, we made aliyah in the most unusual circumstances. On the morning of our move, the Israeli government had announced that only Israeli citizens would be allowed into the country. Thankfully, just hours before our flight, we received a last-minute permit from the Israeli government to enter the country despite our not-yet-citizen status.
When we landed in Israel, we – along with 20 other olim from North America – were met by masked and gloved Jewish Agency employees. We were told prior to our arrival that processing normally takes 3-4 hours. We were all processed in a matter of minutes.
As I watched my kids zooming about the empty terminal, my husband signed the stack of documents that were thrust into his hands. The next thing we knew, we were out of the airport and in a cab heading to our two-week quarantine.
It wasn’t until that evening that we realized that we had not received our Teudot Zehut. Our Nefesh B’Nefesh advisor explained that in an effort to process us as quickly as possible, the Teudot Zehut had not been issued, and we needed to book an appointment with the Ministry of Interior to acquire these essential documents.
The problem was… we were in a two-week quarantine and could not travel anywhere… and the local Ministry of Interior branches were all closed due to the coronavirus pandemic so we would have to travel to either Tel Aviv or Yerushalayem… and we couldn’t take a cab since current Health Ministry regulations only allow one passenger per cab… and we couldn’t lease a car or easily rent one since we lacked the necessary Teudat Zehut to complete these transactions.
In other words, we were stuck.
With the country essentially in lockdown even after our quarantine ended, we made due without. We postponed school registration. Thanks to the intervention of our local absorption center and Nefesh B’Nefesh, a local bank agreed to open a bank account for us despite the lack of a Teudat Zehut. And my husband took a cab to the deserted airport and rented a car using his American passport. (The agent was confused where my husband was from since incoming passengers were being sent straight to quarantine and not allowed to rent cars).
Finally, after coronavirus restrictions were partially lifted, we booked an appointment on Sunday with the Ministry of Interior in Tel Aviv. We packed the family into the car rental and headed out. Unbelievably, this was only the second time I had left our apartment since we arrived in Israel a little more than a month ago. Nervously, I left my husband with the kids in the car, with the plan to switch when I had completed my meeting. When I arrived at the government office, however, I couldn’t believe what I saw.
Standing outside the building were about 100 people trying to get inside. In an apparent effort to ensure both employee and public safety, only a limited number of people were being allowed into the building at a time. Every person, regardless of appointment time, was assigned a ticket number upon arrival and would be allowed in only when his or her ticker was called.
While theoretically reasonable, this system led to masses of people grouping on the stairs outside the building, violating all social distancing guidelines. My number was 532. As number 409 was called, I checked that my mask was properly adjusted and settled into a spot far from the crowd and awaited my turn.
Nearly 20 minutes later, number 412 was called and I was seriously considering leaving. That’s when the honking started. While honking may not be unusual in Tel Aviv, the roads that day were mostly deserted. As more and more cars began honking, I noticed that they weren’t moving. In some instances, people had even exited their cars and were standing on their roofs. This was no normal Tel Aviv traffic jam. Indeed, it was a not-so-peaceful political protest.
While the coronavirus shutdown has complicated our aliyah absorption, it has had a far greater impact on many other people. With all non-essential businesses shut down, workers and small business owners have been hit hard. These cars had arrived at this Tel Aviv municipal office, as well as other government offices throughout the state, to protest the lack of government financial-assistance programs. Seeing people risk their health to protest jarringly put in perspective the bureaucratic headache I was handling.
As the police arrived to redirect traffic and ensure a peaceful protest, I decided to leave. At the end of the day, we would continue to make due without. In the grand scheme of things, it seems, a Teudat Zehut may not be that important after all.