(The only windmill in Jerusalem is the restored in Mishkenot Sha’anim, one of the first neighborhoods outside the Old City. A hidden motor moves it lazily.)
First the visit to Misrad Hap’nim, the Office of the Interior. Professor Sofer needed a new ID card — te’udat zehut — to get his University money from Cheshbon Gemel, which is…what, he wasn’t certain. Not his pension, they insisted, but money set aside from his salary and possibly some supplement from the University, which he could collect at sixty-five. For the next three years, after sixty-five, after the terrorist bombing that hastened his retirement, after returning to recuperate three years after returning to Stanford, Sofer got periodical messages from Kupat Gemel about how much money it — or he — had earned. Maybe three percent, possibly four, which he could be paid…only he should find the right way.
From the terrorist bombing in the Jerusalem shuk, while he was a visiting professor, Sofer recovered. But, from government bureaucracy…well, he’d see.
For three years, Sofer asked could they simply send the money to his California Bank, having closed his Israeli account some years back. Why, they asked, had he closed his Israeli account? This is what Sofer did not say: because he’d learned that having an Israeli bank account is like having a slow blood-letting, an oozing of vital fluids. Like leeches, the longer you have them, the more you are bled and the leeches engorged. Difficult to rid oneself of leeches; the harder you pull, the more they cling.
His gardener in Jerusalem, Yitzhak, a simple, but good man with five children, told him his Bank tale. For his first child’s birth, the Bank encouraged him to open an account of five hundred shekels, a princely amount for a ground-digger, a bush pruner, a foster parent of flowers. Yitzhak returned to the Bank when his daughter reached three to put in another few hundred shekels. But he learned that his original five hundred was now closer to three hundred.
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, of course there’s a fee for the Visa card, and a fee to maintain the accounting on her money, and also a fee for her checking account.”
“Visa, Checking? She has no card and no checks. She’s three.”
“Yes, but the fees are for when she might want a Visa card and to use checks. Kids mature quickly nowadays.”
From then on, Yitzhak stuffed his children’s savings beneath the mattress.
Sofer returned but for a Jerusalem visit. Well, an invitation by the University to give a talk on his area, Renaissance thinking. A conference they are having on Antique thought forms and the present. They invite Sofer to talk on Voltaire’s and Vico’s opposing views of history and the influences on present historical methodology. A bit stuffy, esoteric, although not to Sofer; he knows enough to believe this would be more for Luftmenschen than for the average Joe, or Yosef, rather. Besides, thought Sofer, Isaiah Berlin already addressed this. How the Enlightenment’s supercharging of Science left Humanism in the dust. How could a methodology as rigorous as Science be found for the Humanities? Leibnitz, that polymath of calculus and other disciplines laid out his own ideas of how to develop a methodology for humanities, particularly history, so that one could build the discipline as does the sciences, advance humankind’s knowledge.
But, Voltaire took up the challenge with flourish: history should be only the account of the highest achievements of mankind (“man” or “homme” being the term Voltaire would have used, not “(wo)mankind” or “thex-kind,” or such). For Voltaire there were few such high achievements in history — Antique Greece, Antique Rome, the present Enlightenment. The rest is offal.
Along came Vico, shortly thereafter, and likely never reading Voltaire, and decided that true history is the study of the details, the micro-phenilia of terroir, landscape, the gestures and songs and detritus of mankind, using one’s Einfühlung, to grasp the sense of an era. In such manner, the contemporary can find the common humanity (and differences) with his forebears. Vico set the pattern for how history would be done for the next centuries. History for Vico, was to be a kind of archeology — a disembowling the earth to discover shards of what once was and reassemble with imagination, “fantasie” is the word Sofer recalls from Vico.
They really want to hear about this? About their interest, Sofer was not sure. Maybe to decorate their list of invitees with him, a former chaired professor? But, Sofer knew he could visit his truest Israeli friends and also had a bit of business: collect his Kupat Gemel and maybe pension.
He was armed: his wingman was Yossi, a kibbutznik who would accompany him into battle to accrete his dough. For Yossi, his college buddy, this was not just a mitzvah, but a challenge. He would teach the bureaucrats — paid by his taxes, he pointed out.
“We will start early, Sofer. You arrive Sunday night and talk Tuesday. We will go to Ayelet at the University on Monday, maybe finish by dinner.”
They walk through the West Bank’s fog — it swirls around their wake — to the kibbutz common car pool to find out which wheels Yossi had reserved. To get a key, Yossi maneuvers a mouse to stimulate the screen guarded by bullet proof plexiglas, to click on a thing that then opens the cupboard on the right, revealing all the keys. Beneath this cupboard is a fan running, whispering heat on this chilly morning. Sofer presses his knees to the heated grate.
“The fan dispels the heat from the computer; it’s not for our comfort,” Yossi explains.
They seek their number from all the white, battered, scrungy Toyotas or Suzukis or such. Yossi pops the trunk for Sofer’s portfolio and seek refuge from the icy fog. The engine labors mightily to clear the windshield to little avail. Yossi hikes down his sweatshirt sleeve over the heel of his palm, massages the windshield with a circular swirl and they are off. Early, 730 a.m. they begin, as Ayelet should be in her office at 800.
But, coming from the Shtachim, the West Bank, Yehuda and Shomrom, the territories (“Terror-tories, thinks Sofer) — too many names for this almost desolate landscape — they approach Bethlehem Junction. Traffic is at a standstill before the security gates. Here, Jews have patience; perhaps not Arabs. The too young Israeli soldiers, men and women — emotionless faces — scan cars, sweep with mirrors on long handles seeking bombs beneath trucks, move us through. ETA maybe 8:15, 8:20.
Sofer suggests, “Perhaps we should call Ayelet to make sure that she’s there and that we’ll arrive closer to 8:30?”
Yossi is on the speaker.
“Ayelet, we should be there by 8:30, 8:45.”
“You’re coming here, to Givat Ram campus? Do you have the tofus 161 from Uri on the Har Hatzofim Campus?”
“Yes, we have the form 161.”
“Good. And did you check on the immigration and absorption status at the Eagle’s Nest office on the other side of the City? You know, by the entrance to Jerusalem?”
“Eagle’s Nest? Immigration and Absorption?” Yossi asks. Sofer shrugs shoulders, making a gestural “W” with shoulders and head.
“Sure, I told you, you have to prove that Sofer hasn’t entered and exited the country for three years in order not to be charged the 35% tax.”
“Ayelet, he’s bringing his passport which will show he hasn’t been here for three years since the bombing.”
“Tell Professor Sofer — he’s listening? — tell him that the passport is not enough. We must have an ishur, an approval from this office that he hasn’t been here. Ask for Mazal. She only needs to send me a fax with the information. Then, Professor Sofer opens a bank account in the post office and I send the money.”
Mazal, a fortunate name meaning “good luck,” thought Sofer.
Yossi directs the GPS to Eagle’s Nest, which Osher recalls might have been the name of Hitler’s perch during the war. More likely aerie.
Aerie it is: perched clifflike, a raptor scanning the valley below, eyeing its prey, the swarming cars trying to exit this Holy City…just beyond where Jerusalem will end before it is transformed to the slalom highway that ends in Tel Aviv, or the Mediterranean if your brakes are faulty.
Yossi, pecuniary kibbutznik that he is, reluctantly agrees to pay for parking in the bowels of the Eagle, as no street parking is evident. The car worms around from level to level and finding nothing, Yossi, the law-abiding kibbutznik more reluctantly parks in an illegal zone.
No signs show an entrance to the building. They jerk on several doors and one opens to an unmarked elevator and they ascend.
“‘Ascend,’ Aliyah, is the word for coming to Jerusalem.” Yossi remarks. “This is hopeful.”
“A spiritual ascent to Jerusalem. But, I don’t expect spirit raising here,” Sofer returns. There is the usual security routine: two or three young men in kippot srugot (knitted skull caps that signal their moderate Orthodoxy) check them out before they empty their pockets and pass through the security gate. The soldiers shrug Sofer and Yossi through, nod their heads past the body scanners, as if to say, “You ancient guys? You guys terrorists? Don’t bother us. Move on.” Over the next hour, these two ancients leave and return three more times and the soldiers begin to smile them through.
Enter the Eagle’s Nest. A computer machine should spit you a number when you press a button. The machine is broken. But, a dear Ethiopian fellow also with a black knit skull cap, has spread the last few numbers on a cabinet and encourages Yossi and Sofer to take one. The pink tickets are still curled from the machine, like three card Monte that card sharks use in Times Square to separate tourists from their dough. Sofer nabs 421, the lowest in the crowd. Sofer takes the initiative and asks into an open door, “Where’s Mazal.”
“Mazal? Mazal you want? Mazal? She’s out today.”
Yossi takes over in Hebrew, “Who is covering?”
“Covering? Covering?…try Yentl, right there.”
Yentl, her hair covered with a Hermés scarf marking her modesty as an Orthodox woman but with style, is with someone. Yossi and Sofer wait and she calls 421.
Sofer and Yossi enter.
But behind them, pushing them, his hips shoving Sofer’s buttocks into Yentl’s desk, is a fellow holding aloft a crinkled ticket that he says is “420.” He waves it, so they are unable to see the number.
“I have 420! 420 I have! Take me! I’m first!”
Yentl, even-tempered or accustomed to such ploys says, “Fine, you didn’t answer when I called three times, so I called 421. I’ll get to you next.”
“But I have 420! You didn’t call loudly enough! I didn’t hear! It’s my fault? You don’t have a voice. Listen to yourself! Also, I went to the toilet. A man can’t take a piss anymore? And my wife was waiting. She says you didn’t call 420! She has ears like an owl. Look!” He waves towards a coven of middle aged yentas, as if Yentl could take her pick, check for owl ears.
Yentl bows her head to her desk and Sofer’s document. Then, Sofer does something out of character. With a right hip thrust, a Beyoncé move, he butts the door closed and the fellow bounces into the hall. As the “office” walls don’t go up to the ceiling, they still hear “420! 420!” But more faintly.
Yentl looks briefly at Sofer’s passport and leaves, excuses herself to check if he’s been in the Holy Land in the past three years. She returns, poker faced.
“You haven’t been back in three years. Why not?”
How to answer this plaint, which rises from Yentl like a scolding mother’s?
“I was back at my university in California.”
“The Hebrew University isn’t good enough. The Hebrew University isn’t yours?”
“I apologize geveret. I was only a visiting professor here.”
“Professor, you’re a Jew. A Jew doesn’t only visit his homeland. O.K. Since you haven’t lived nor even visited the past three years, we must charge you 35% interest on your Cheshbon Gemel.”
“Ah. OK. Clear. Ayelet asked that you fax your decision to her.”
“Fax, Professor? Fax? The fax hasn’t worked for weeks. We are not a wealthy country like where you returned, your America.”
“OK, geveret. Can I scan it with my phone and send it?”
“Professor, you are an educated man. If Ayelet says ‘fax’ does this mean ‘scan’ in your English? In Hebrew, our language, ‘fax’ means…’fax.’”
“Geveret, what do you suggest?”
“Well, ask around the Kanyon, the Mall the stores around us if they will let you send a fax from here.”
“Geveret, can suggest who might permit that?”
“Professor, I look like a travel agent, an information center? I am a lowly pekida, clerk here. Go outside, ask.”
Yossi and Sofer march out and and eyeball the offices and stores in the Airie. Yossi goes for a large business center. Sofer tries the small law office with a diminutive “accountant” sign beneath it and a single, young woman partially screened by her computer, a low-priced Dell. He cracks the door.
“Excuse me, I can speak English?”
“You can speak what you want, but I hardly understand.”
“A fax. Just one page a fax.”
Yossi shoulders into the open door behind Sofer, watching the drama unfold. Then adds in Hebrew, forefinger uplifted, “Only one page.”
And the deed is done.
Yossi offers her tzedaka, some charitable contribution of her choice, but she waves us off. She is ringless, with plumpish fingers, particularly her proximal phalanges with slight swelleings, this apparently religious woman. A generous soul. Sofer vaguely recalls some myth that woman with such finger plumpness also make pleasurable sex. Some man will be fortunate, thinks Sofer.
Back through security, now regulars, the guys wave them through, the alarms alarming those around, flashing red lights.
Voltaire, Vico, thinks Sofer. What good are such high thinkers here. What use the methodology of history. These people are simply living their lives, or living their lives simply: fax or no; 421 or 420; and what’s a Jew like you doing, not even visiting for three years? They too make history, Vico’s.
Yentl had offered, “Just come in when you return, don’t wait in line, don’t pick a number.”
But Sofer still feels self-conscious, feels the irritated or envious looks of those around. Sofer recalls that the ancient Romans believed that sight was caused in two possible ways: either your eyes sent out rays that felt the object seen, or particles were sent from the eyes, bombards the seen object and informs the observer. From these models, the “evil eye” was a very physical act, one that can cause harm. Sofer roams through his memory while marching into Yentl’s office: the Romans put statues of their mother and father in the house over the entrance to protect the family from nasty eyeballs. Sofer needs such protective eyeballs. He feels on the back of his head, his neck, bombardment by envious eyeballers, waiting.
But, Yentl stays on task. Without lifting an eyebrow, least an eyeball, she takes the proferred fax, nods, scribbles an initial and hands this back to Sofer.
They exit security.
“Let’s celebrate with an espresso,” Yossi suggests. But a glance around the Mall, then a step onto the terrace of the Aerie and Yossi has second thoughts.
“We’re parked illegaly. I can’t bear it as a kibbutznik. Let’s get the car.”
“Fine, Yossi, an espresso on an other occasion. Maybe tomorrow early morning before I give the paper?”
“Look, let’s meet at the post office bank nearest your conference. We’ll open the account, Ayelet will send you your Cheshbon Gemel and then we’ll celebrate with a double espresso at Ilan’s or the Coffee Bean on Emek Refaim.”
“Emek Refaim, it translates as “giant ghosts” no?”
“Yes, let’s haunt it. Remember Sofer when you visited just after all the bus bombings at the beginning of the Intifada? One of the first was Sbarro’s pizza on Jaffa Road. The whole front of the restaurant was glass; packed with families. The bomber stood by the window and took out dozens of women and chldren. Then a bus bombing on Jaffa Road, the bus roof was torn back like the old tuna cans. The driver was headless, his hands still gripping the steering wheel as if trying to stop the murder. The bomb maker coats the nails with rat poison, warfarin, to induce further hemorrhaging. Then the cafe nearest the President’s House, on the triangular island. We visited this and others. Instead of ‘stations of the cross,’ you pronounced this the ‘stations of the fress.’ We would fress, gorge gustily wherever a bomber had wreaked havoc.”
“I remember, Yossi, I remember too well. I have no magnetic eraser of my RAM nor of my permanent memory for some events.”
“Nu, tomorrow we can have coffee at the Beanery.”
Next day, Sofer is roused by the sun streaming over the Jordan hills to kiss softly the Old City and stream through Sofer’s terrace by 6:30. He looks at the Adirondock chair and table on the terrace outside his door to the terrace, tempted to brew tea, skip breakfast, watch the sun head initiate its daily arc to sink into the Mediterranean.
A touch of Wissotzky tea — the cheap stuff, dust in tea bags — on the terrace, then leaves for the buffet at seven.
One tunnels from the terraced rooms, ascends through the hotel and turns to the restaurant. Walking through tunnels seems right for Jerusalem, at the foot of the Temple, where the entrance to the Temple Mount was via an ascending tunnel. Also, impinging on Sofer’s memories, when Bar Kochba defeated the Romans, his men tunneled beneath the ground, a radius enough for an unarmored man to burrow. The Jewish soldiers, clad in rags, popped out from tunnels like prairie dogs or meerkats, thumbed noses at the heavily armored Roman soldiers, who pursued them into tunnels, getting stuck with their armor. Then, the Bar Kochba soldiers finished off the Romans.
Israeli breakfast: chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, a squeeze of lemon atop. A hard boiled egg he slices by on the side. A dish of yogurt. Then, two cappuccinos the Arab waiter makes for him, recognizes him. A poker-faced fellow, meticulously dressed in white shirt, he has been forthcoming after Sofer tipped him five pounds the first day. An investment. Sofer chooses to sit on the outside terrace, in the chill, the same view of the rising sun over Jordan as two floors below from his room.
Now, thought Sofer, the battle engaged today is to open the bank account at the post office, as Ayelet suggested. Attack at 8:00 a.m.
At 7:50, nourished, twice caffeinated, Sofer marches out. Rising from the Hotel’s tunnel, emerging into the light through the security gate, he follows the path to the water fountain with fantastical lions, some spitting water. The lions of Judah, he imagines. The Jewish architect of the Alhambra in Moorish Spain before the ejection of Jews, Judah hid lions heads along the water fountains, his signature.
But, enough of such rememberings. Crossing on the road over the Cinemateque, passing the fluttering Scottish flag of the Scottish hostel, Sofer finds the head of Emek Refaim. He is stopped at the wall on his left, site of the old train station. A memorial. Eight names. Stones placed atop the memorial by passersby. Here, at the beginning of the second Intifada, a bomber blew open a bus, killing eight, maiming many. Killing, maiming not soldiers, but men, women, children. On the other hand, as the Nazis argued, baby roaches become adult roaches, baby rats, to adult rats.
Yossi’s ring interrupts such reminiscences.
“Sofer, not good news. The guy at the post office bank said since you don’t have an identity card, only an Israeli passport, he will not open an account for you. I told him that you have an American passport. Then, for sure he won’t open an account for you. I reminded him that your passport has your ID card number on it. ‘What do I need to tell you mister. No card, no account!’ I asked, “How about I open an account, then put on your name?’ The guy got impatient. ‘No ID card, no account.’ I tried my bank, but my banker wasn’t there yet, but I asked a someone there and they said…’No ID card, no account.”
“Yossi, let’s have espressos as consolation. Tomorrow I go to the Interior Ministry for the ID card.”
They find the Beanery. Their espressos don’t match Yossi’s home roasted, hand picked Gaggia-spewed coffee. Yossi’s liqueur flow clings together, coats the cup.
“Sofer, Bialletti revolutionized espresso making with his stove-top maker; men stopped going to the café each morning. But Gaggia makes a finer cup today. I won’t drink or eat anything after an espresso. I like the taste on my tongue, the coating in the back of the throat.”
Wednesday, Yossi tells Sofer that the Interior Ministry opens at 130. Better to have an appointment, but no appointments for two weeks.
“I’ll go early. I’ll wait. Let’s see.”
In the morning, Sofer is out before 7, running along the terrace. Then on the terrace in front of his room, facing the sun, he does yoga-ish cat-cow, child’s pose, and upward, downward dogs. This is for his lower back, the paraspinals, the terminations of the iliopsoas, a bit of help with the gluteals and possibly pyriformis, through which the sciatic nerve courses, only in half of all people. All this Sofer has studied like he does his Renaissance maps, the better to keep moving especially in the morning. He’s also been taught to stand slightly bent-kneed, pigeon toed, then rotate, swinging his arms first sloppily then palms upward around the core of his spine. This should loosen up the axis. He ponders learning to stand on his head, as Ben Gurion learned from Feldenkreis, but he’s not prepared to see the world so topsy-turvy.
He’s loosened up enough to course the underground corridor which is populated by photos of previous, but more luminous guests: Here, underground, the Dali Lama, Herman Wouk (wearing a Detroit Tigers cap), Grace Paley, Saul Bellow. Sofer greets each as he passes below ground. Emerges to breakfast and decides to take a break from the conference and walk the Old City Wall. The desk attendant says, “Don’t rush along the wall. Take time”
But time is not Sofer’s to take, as if time could be taken. He walks the craggy path, on the right and left, looking through the gunsights once manned by Jordanian soldiers. Pot shots on Jews. Only glimpses into the Armenian Quarter, smallest, neatest. He recalls being told the complexity opening the Church of the Ascension each morning: the Armenian priest posses the key (perhaps being the earliest Christians), then passes it to someone else, the Russian Orthodox, who inserts the key and turns the lock.
Much little else glimpsed within the Old City, more the outskirts. Churches built by victorious Germans or Moslems or such, each claiming what David, Solomon built for the Jews. Today, in the US much is made of the evil of cultural appropriation. But, stealing from Jews has a long tradition. On Jewish bones, layers of building.
He finds his way at path’s end to the Western Wall, the wailing site. The path peters out, one might say in this holy spot. He finds his way through the usual prayer peddlers, sellers of red threads, the cardboard kippah handlers, to the Wall. And self-consciously kisses it to begin his prayer for the too many dead in his life. The tztelach the folded paper prayers, climb the crevices to some seven feet and down two feet, like crag scramblers reaching for god. Who was it — Sappho, on the antique Greek isle of Lesbos — who wrote that breath becomes poetry only when it reaches someone’s ear. He hoped his breath would dwell among the crevices and bring rest to those dead.
By noon, he is off to the Ministry of Interior. He recalled it. He thought he would need a passport photo and there had been such a business tucked into the hindpart of the Ministry. But none there. Sofer at 1215 is third in line. Ahead is a youngish Haredi fellow, spindly fingered, hand muscles atrophied from only turning blatteiich, pages of Talmud or Torah or such. He reads the Igerent Ramban, letters from the Ramban to his son. Mostly about how to handle one’s anger: this should be useful for the impending human crush. He informs Sofer that now the photos and fingerprints are done in-house for security. Behind him, a young Ethiopian fellow, pack on is back. Sofer asks him to hold a place while he goes for felafel nearby, hoping for proper humus and tehinna atop. He is disappointed twice: first, it is bland; and later that night, gets stomach grief. Upon returning, now a long line wends behind the iron gate. Sofer resumes his third place. Nearing 1:30, Israeli chaos erupts. Yes, the line snakes behind him and the iron gates tremble. On the other side of the gates, rushing the entrance doors, a motley group of schemers mob the three security officers, fellows in the mid-twenties, showing remarkable if strained patience. A woman holding her baby, retreats. Returns with a large stroller, settles the kid within and prepares to batter her way through the crowd. An elderly fellow pushes a more ancient woman in a wheelchair, using the foot rests to attack calves above the Achilles before them. Caged behind the gates, Sofer is now bumped by some biddy arear who roots through her pocket books, their bulges shoving him into the guard rail. Sofer tries to avoid the pleasant Haredi fellow, still pouring over the Ramban on anger.
The main security fellow, a bug in his ear, checks his list of names against peoples’ peteks, those numbered pink slips with numbers.
“Everyone can be admitted at 1:30…except those without a petek who will be admitted at 2:30.”
Sofer and slim fingers ahead of him settle in. Selection has begun. “Selection,” — who shall live, who shall die — after the Holocaust is a charged word. They wait until 2:30. Sofer’s tactic, unlike the restless petek wavers, is to quiet, turn within. He carries a tome of Isaiah Berlin, but will not crack it until admitted.
2:30 and the second wave begins and Sofer is carried by the tsunami of people behind including bulgy lady. Upstairs, he’s pushed into a petek machine and is given D105. Two waiting rooms, one a sauna, the other a breezeway. Sofer sits, he watches the children. An Ethiopian woman in midpregnancy, Orthodox, sits with her four year old, offers him an orange, which he tries unscuccesfullly to peel. He wears a kippah, tzitzit hang from the four corners beneath his shirt.
How to describe the next three hours of waiting. Isaiah Berlin on Machiavelli he reads, on the ailment of historical method, on Vico and Voltaire. By five, Sofer asks about being called and the fellow behind a counter assures Sofer that D’s will soon be called.
At 5:15 he’s called to Stand 20. As he approaches, another soul leaves with a forlorn look. Stand 20 alone has a small fake oriental rag patch on the floor before its window. Behind bullet-proof plexiglas, Sofer sees a Geveret blowing on her nails, polish at her elbow. These are remarkable Cherokee red talons, each with a colored gem embedded. Each pinky has a pearl lightning bolt inscribed, a stylized “S,” perhaps for her name, Shoshana or Shlomit or Sarahele. Sofer sees the nail polish bottle on her desk. She has been repairing the edges. She blows; glances up at Sofer.
“Geveret, I’ve lost my teudat zehut and wish to apply for a new one.”
“You don’t live here anymore. It says for over three years. For what do you need a te’udat zehut?”
“To open an account in the postal bank.”
Still not looking at him, she moves two nimble forefingers on the computer keyboard, splaying the others protectively. The printer spits out two pages of variegated colored document. She yanks this out, staples and turns down one corner, smudging the ink, staples it and stamps with a red stamp so it covers the turned-down corner and the page beneath.
“For this you need a tatzmit rishum,” as she proffers this with one hand, a dismissive wave with another. She has a touch of royalty.
Puzzled, skeptical, relieved, Sofer thanks the woman generously as he retreats. He realizes he is backing away from her as the Cohen Hagodel did when he stepped away from the Holy Ark so as not to disrespect it with his backside. He catches himself bowing slightly.
After five hours, released to the cool Jerusalem eve. He phones Yossi with the news.
“Tomorrow Postal Bank.”
Tomorrow arrives and Sofer greets the rising Jordanian sun. His child’s pose are his salaams, obeisance to some god of mercy. He marches past the Emek Refaim memorial, for those who will permanently be bowed before some unmerciful god. On to the Bank. Enters and sees a man and young woman behind the bars. Strategically which one. Sofer picks the guy, who looks older and only afterwards realizes that this is likely the one who told Yossi the Jerusalem equivalent of “no tickey, no washy.”
Assured by yesterday’s taloned woman, Sofer offers his taztmit rishum and tries his Hebrew.
“Efshar liftoach cheshbon b’bank.”
The man responds in English worse than Sofer’s rudimentary Hebrew:
“You must an ID. Where ID?”
“The woman at Misrad Hapnim said that all I needed was this tatzmit rishum.”
“You must an ID. Where ID?”
“But the lady at Misrad Hapnim…”
“You must a teudat zehut,’ the man lapses into Hebrew as if this would be clearer to Professor Sofer.
The gig up, Sofer leaves. He recalls the American phrase, “Going Postal.”
Maybe a regular bank, he considers desperately.
He turns at the door, asks Mr. Postal, who waves his hand says, “Up, down street.”
Into Bank Leumi, “Yes, National Bank, will take my money,” he reassures himself.
Up the street around a corner. A young, lithe, diminutive lovely Yemenite woman greets him. Her fingers are delicate, no ring adorning them; asks how she can help.
“To open an account, with a foreign passport.”
“I must ask.”
She disappears behind the first rippled glass wall. Fortunately, the manager asks her to call in Sofer.
“Only on Bialik Street in Tel Aviv you can open a foreign passport. And you won’t go to Bialik today, to Tel Aviv.”
“Please, I want to get my cheshbon gemel after three years.”
“Adoni, I wish to help you. But only in Tel Aviv on Bialik. Try Bank Discount, or Hapoalim. Maybe they will do this.”
A soft kindness was in this man’s tone, a softening in his face.
And with this, Sofer gave up. His cheshbon gemel will be yet another donation he’s made to the State.
Yossi won’t give up. He calls Ayelet on the speaker phone, in the car descending into the cold fog of the West Bank.
“Ayelet, here’s what happened today. No bank account.”
“Only this. Because of no teudat zehut? Well, what if we just transfer to his foreign bank account? Already he will lose 35%. For maybe a few hundred shekels more, we can do a direct transfer. Maybe also a few hundred more shekels for an attorney. Only to fill out the forms I will send you now. Also have an apostille certify Professor Sofer’s identity. And also your bank must have a notary certify that they are a legitimate bank and you have an account there. Just take photos of everything or scan and send by email”
“Ayelet, that’s it? We couldn’t have done this in the beginning?”
“I am sending you now the forms.” Ayelet adroitly avoids the question.
And this is the end of the story. Sofer is told that an apostille can be gotten only at the Israel consulate in San Francisco. It is sealed inside an envelope with a red wax seal and a dangling braid so it cannot be opened. How, Sofer wonders, how will he take a photo of an apostille if it is sealed?
Copyright Szajnberg 2020