The Hebrew Lesson

The secretary took the money and insisted on writing up a receipt. ?Name?? she asked. ?Sayed,? I answered. ?Pardon?? ?Sayed − samekh-yod-dalet,? I added helpfully.

The line at the post office on Agrippas Street was out the door. It was the 15th of the month - the deadline for VAT and insurance payments. I couldn't come back another time. The car registration expired yesterday and I had to renew it.

I stood in line for almost an hour, constantly defending my spot from foreign invaders who tried to sneak in and from those people who show up all of a sudden and claim that they just stepped out for a moment after securing a place in line. "Ask him," they always say, tapping the shoulder of the guy standing in front of me. "I'm after you, right?" And the guy usually nods, moving you even more precious minutes away from the counter.

"You can't pay with a check," the postal clerk admonished me as she slammed the new vehicle registration form down on the counter. "Then by credit card, please," I tried. "Sir!" she shouted impatiently. "Don't you understand Hebrew? It says right here: cash only. Next!" she yelled, turning to the next person in line without another glance at me.

1,350 shekels. There's no way around it, I've got to pay it. Because of the wonderful Id al-Fitr holiday, as of yesterday I've been driving around without a valid registration. I knew that I'd have to go to the bank to take 1,000 shekels out of the ATM. For half an hour, I drove around in an unregistered car in an attempt to find a parking spot near the bank. I lay in wait for someone to pull out, nervous that a policeman might pick this moment to pop up and ask to see my documents. I know my rotten luck - if no one has asked to see my documents for over a year, this will obviously be the day that I get in trouble with the authorities.

I got through it. I parked legally and put five shekels in the meter - enough to afford me protection from the parking inspectors for over an hour. I made it back to the car with five minutes left on the meter. Not so bad - considering I wouldn't have to go back to the post office because I could pay for the registration and get it stamped at the bank, too.

As at the post office, at the vehicle inspection center in the Talpiyot industrial area, the line of cars was out to the street. I wasn't scared, because now if a policeman came, he'd see that I was in line to renew my registration. At most he'd give me a regular ticket for blocking a lane of traffic. The line moved pretty quickly and I was feeling pretty good when I pulled up to the first position. That was until the tester sternly rebuked me: "Go into the office first," he shouted. "And then come back to the end of the line."

"Mandatory insurance card and ID of the vehicle's owner," the gum-chewing woman in the office snapped. "Here," I said as I handed her the insurance card, a power of attorney form and a photograph of my father's ID card. "What's this?," she fumed. "You can't see anything in this picture," she thrust the papers back at me and they fell on the floor. "Please, this is my father, it says so right here."

"Don't you understand Hebrew? I don't care. The details aren't clear. Bring your father's original ID card," she said impatiently, giving me a look that said, "I know a lousy forger when I see one. Get out of my face!"

"Please," I tried again, straining to stay calm as my temples throbbed with anger. "He lives far away. Please, ma'am, look - the address is in Tira. I'm his son. My name is here on the attachment. Please, look."

I pulled out my ID card and held it out to her.

"Okay," she said in the most scornful tone possible. "I'll let it go just this once. Man, these people. 62 shekels."

"Here you go."

When I left the office, I hurried out to the car and immediately lit up the cigarette one needs after being subjected to a barrage of insults. The line inched ahead, and so did I, until I finally reached the testing position. The tester at the end of the tunnel handed me the results of the test. "Replace one high-beam headlight on the left. That's all."

"Where can I get that done around here?" I asked with a smile. A headlight is nothing, really nothing; I got off cheaply.

"Right here," the kind tester pointed to an electrician's shop just five meters away. I know it's a bit more expensive here, but I don't care. How much can it cost to change a headlight? Let's get this nightmare over with and get the lousy registration stamp already.

"Mustafa!" called the owner, and a young man, perhaps a boy, with a cigarette in his mouth, came quickly. "Change this headlight for him," the boss ordered and then slipped back into the office.

It took two minutes to change the headlight. I thanked Mustafa, who sent me to pay in the office. The boss sat at one desk and a secretary sat at another desk facing him.

"So, what did we do here? A headlight?" he asked. Then he said to the secretary: "Take 50 shekels from him."

The secretary took the money and insisted on writing up a receipt.

"Name?" she asked.

"Sayed," I answered.


"Sayed - samekh-yod-dalet," I added helpfully.

"Huh?" She asked me again, uncomprehending.

"Don't you understand Hebrew?" barked the boss from behind his desk. "Your name? Shu ismak?" he translated into Arabic for me. "You know - Ahmed, Mohammed, whatever - your name. Don't you understand?"

"It's samekh-yod-dalet," I answered.

"Write down Abdul," the electrician instructed the secretary. "Yallah. Ma'a salama."