It had been a long time since I'd had to put in an appearance at the Interior Ministry, and was dreading having to go. However, in order to register my son as an American citizen, I had to go to the local Ministry office, which, in our case, is in Hadera, in order to get his birth certificate. As long as we were going, I figured that we would take care of his passport and renew my passport as well, which will expire shortly after the first of the year. Why rush to get it all done now, you ask? Well, as is typical for this time of year, the natives are getting restless, and the Histadrut/labor unions are threatening a strike, scheduled to begin on the first of September. How very original. In any event, we thought it best to get everything out of the way now, so that we wouldn't be sorry later. I can still remember the scenes shown on Israeli television during the last strike, with hordes of people stampeding to get into different government offices that were open for one day only in order to allow the regular folks to get things done. It was scary to watch, and I'm assuming even worse to experience, and frankly, something I'd prefer to avoid at all costs.
Having gone for our passport photos the evening before (with my husband's thumb in my son's picture, as he had to hold him up in front of a white wall for the American passport background requirement), we drove to Hadera, as I mentally prepared myself for Israeli bureaucracy at its worst. I can remember past trips to various Interior Ministry offices around the country - small hole-in-the-wall venues with inadequate amounts of both fresh air and pleasant, expeditious service. I remember the war stories from other Interior Ministry "survivors", stories which usually began with having to get up during the middle of the night in order to be at the Ministry office before it opened, so that you wouldn't have to wait for too many hours to be served, and ended with repeat visits to complete what should have been simple tasks, only to be frustrated by the inevitable to request to return with "all" of the necessary documents, because despite numerous phone calls beforehand (including the thousand or so tries when the phone was either busy or being left to ring because no one could be bothered to pick it up), chances were excellent that there would be at least one missing document (based, I am sure, on secret internal memos passed out to Ministry employees on a daily basis, designed to confuse and confound the public). Oh yes, the good old days.
Yesterday's experience could not have been further from past experiences. Having done my research online, downloaded and printed out the proper forms and gathered all of the required documentation, we made our way to the Ministry office in Hadera, located conveniently in a quiet shopping mall with adequate underground parking. We arrived at around 10:30; the office had opened at 8:00 AM, and I could only imagine the lines that awaited us upstairs. Yes, there were quite a few people in line ahead of us, but we managed to take care of the birth certificate and my passport in record time, without having to wait at all, as the birth certificate is printed on the spot, and thus doesn't require taking a number, and we convinced the very nice woman(!) to take care of my passport at the same time (personally, I thought it was because our son has the same name as her son, but why question our good fortune). Ten minutes later, we took care of our son's passport, and that was it. Less than 30 minutes spent on three tasks in the high-ceilinged, air conditioned, clean Interior Ministry office. Needless to say, I was amazed as well as strangely introspective, as I realized that I've been living in Israel long enough to remember how things used to be. Interior Ministry clerks who were both nice and speedy. Now, if only we could figure out a way to stop the strikes, get people to take smoking laws seriously, convince people to drive as though not every other driver is the enemy, put a stop to the absurd amounts of littering, and teach people to respect each other, we'd be all set!