Thursday, October 20, 2011

Passport renewal Israeli style

We knew the first task on our list when we arrived in New York, was to head over to the Israeli Embassy. Our Israeli passports have not been up to date for more than 20 years, but a little birdie (named Barbi) told us, that it has become more difficult of late, to pass as Canadians at Tel Aviv Airport, so we needed to do something about it. The thought of spending hours and days of our time in Israel waiting in lines at the Office of the Interior, convinced us to take care of it in New York, knowing full well that even in New York, there would likely be complications ...

Finding the Embassy was remarkably easy. It was a quick walk from Grand Central Station, and even though it was pouring outside, we made it there in good time.

As soon as we walked through the front door of the building, any semblance of being in New York vanished and we were for all intents and purposes in Tel Aviv. The young man standing in front of the elevator addressed us in Hebrew and in the blink of an eye, our second language became our first. As he gave us the third degree, (Why are you here? Why didn't you get your passports renewed in Canada? How long did you live in Israel? Where did you live in Israel? Did anyone ask you to bring a package to the Embassy? Are you carrying a weapon? Are you carrying anything that looks like a weapon? etc ...) I found myself easing back into the informal way of dealing with things Israeli style. That is, look very formal and respectful, but roll your eyes when appropriate and raise your voice to get things done.

Although we were apprehensive all the way to the Embassy, by the time we got in the elevator, we were primed for the experience. Actually we were kind of excited. Our "Israeli" had been switched on and we were ready to rumble!

The elevator door opened into the security check area. Here, once again we were asked all of the same questions by another young man, but much more seriously. When he asked me whether I had any food or drink with me, I remembered I had a cliff bar in my day pack, which I removed from my bag and showed him. "Well you have two choices Miss," he said losing his patience, as the woman directly in front of us had also brought a granola bar and neglected to fess up to it before her bag went through the xray machine. "You or your husband can go back downstairs with the cliff bar, and then come back after eating it or disposing of it, or we can dispose of it here". Marc was hoping to eat it in on the spot, but that was not allowed. Our interviewer and his colleague took the cliff bar from me and turned it over and over in their hands and read all of the ingredients as if they were interested in the particular flavour of the bar, then he decided not to give us the choice. He put the cliff bar on the ground beside him and under his breath he said "Just know miss, that you will not be able to retrieve it when you leave. I will be throwing it away as soon as you go through the door!" I thought to myself, "He is probably going to have it for lunch ...", but I thought it best to kept that to myself.

Then we passed through the metal detector and retrieved our phones and my camera and were instructed to sit in the waiting room until our number was called. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. The young lady behind window number one, looked at our old passports, found us on her computer, reviewed the forms I had filled out, made a couple of adjustments to our identity numbers, reviewed our passport photos and instructed us to wait on the other side of the room where we would be called again. "Humm" we thought, how organized. Are we in the right office?

There were only five or six people in the waiting room, which was also a bonus, and we thought to ourselves "we will be out of here in no time". In the mean time, there was Israeli TV to watch on several screens. And what was on? It was the day after Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped and held for over five years had been released. So you would think that if the television was on, it would be a news channel.  But instead of coverage of this amazing event, we were watching a morning show dedicated to the topic of infidelity. A panel of experts were arguing about the reasons why and the pros and cons of men and woman of different age groups having affairs and/or ending their relationships.

It was a absolute riot! Here we were at the Israeli Embassy, getting advice on infidelity!

We noticed quite quickly, that even with a small number of people waiting, progress was incredibly slow. I guess we had been too quick to judge the seemingly organized procedures!

As we soon found out when our number was finally called, nothing is simple, even if it is simple.

The very nice young lady behind window number 11, consulted our old passports, reviewed our forms, looked us up on her computer screen, did a lot of thinking and then asked me to verify that our last trip to Israel was in 1997. Stupidly, I immediately replied "No. The last time we were in Israel was four years ago." As soon as it was out of my mouth, I knew we were in trouble. I explained that we entered with our Canadian passports and our Israeli identity numbers. She then asked to see the stamp in our Canadian passports. But of course since then we both had new passports. I tried to explain that to her, and her reply was simply to go home and bring her the old passports! Luckily the truth was that we did not have our old passports at home or anywhere else. Neither of us had asked to keep our passports when we renewed them. They had been destroyed.

Big problem, apparently. Her biggest concern was that without the stamped passports, she could only give us a passport for one year. Our biggest concern was that we were flying to Tel Aviv in 10 days and needed our passports!! I explained to her (voice getting louder and more impatient while still smiling and trying to be civil) that based on our past trips to Israel, she could surmise that we do not fly to Israel every year or even every two years. A passport for one year would do just fine as long as we could renew it when the time came. This didn't seem to satisfy her.

The worst of it was that I hadn't yet told her we needed the passports expedited since we were leaving for Israel on October 31st, so I needed to keep her on my side.

Soon she had her superior at her side and she was explaining the full story to him. He of course shook his head and told her to tell us simply to go home and bring the old passports (here we go again). I could hear her explaining to him the sad story of the destroyed passports, that could not be retrieved. Both of them looked bewildered. By this time I had dropped the bombshell that we needed the passports before the 31st. "Did we have booked tickets already?" she asked with wide eyes? I nodded. "Do you have them with you? She asked. Luckily, I did have a print out of our tickets, and I quickly retrieved them from my day pack.

They left together (probably to call the Prime Minister of Israel, to discuss the saga of the two Israelis, who illegally entered Israel on Canadian passports and have no way of proving it ... What shall we do with them? ). She returned several minutes later with two pieces of paper. "We have a solution," she said. "If you can write the story down here on this declaration and sign it to verify that you are telling the truth, I can issue you a 10 year passport and it will be ready on October 27th".

As simple as that. After at least an hour of discussions, we were done. We each wrote the same words on the two piece of paper, signed our names, paid the fee for a new passport, and left the office with a piece of paper that we will exchange for our passports on October 27th.

Will the passports really be ready on the 27th? A betting man would say the odds are fifty-fifty. Stay tuned! This story isn't over until it's over!


  1. So hilarious. I may just visit this office next time I'm lonely for Israel instead of flying all the way to Tel Aviv. As long as there is a falafel place nearby, the experience will be complete, sans jet lag.

  2. I hope to hell your passports are ready on time and that I didn't steer you wrong!