My First (And Last) Account

Even before my bar mitzvah, grandfather Victor opened a bank account for me. My parents already had a high school savings account for me, if anyone still remembers such a thing, so Victor, as I called him, opened the savings account so that I would have money when I grew up.

With it, I received a metal box painted red and green, into which I slipped the coins that my grandparents' elderly friends occasionally gave me on holidays, or when I helped them clear coffee cups and cake plates off the table. I also put in the box coins I earned playing dreydl with Gadi, the son of my parents' best friends, on Hanukkah.

The box was ark shaped, like Noah's Ark, which is what the savings plan was called. Sometimes I'd receive tickets from my Noah's Ark plan for special performances at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium - and my joy knew no bounds.

I could have filled my private Noah's Ark with coins, but I could never empty it. Only the bank clerk had the key. Once every few weeks I'd go with Victor to the bank. He would always bring the clerk a box of chocolates, and then my monetary training ceremony would be held. The clerk would open the box and the coins would scatter all over. Then she'd count them, one by one, write the sum of the total in my blue notebook and I'd go home happy and content - I had become rich again.

In those days I still knew how much I had. Together with the checks I got for my bar mitzvah, which was held in Tchelet Hall on Sheinkin street - where an AM-PM supermarket now stands - my first account gradually grew. It was also my last account.

Almost 50 years later I'm still with the same bank and the same account. The tiny, modest branch of yore has been replaced by a two-story structure on the other side of the plaza. Victor has long since died, my account number has remained six-digital, evidence of my great seniority, and most of the clerks don't know Victor, not to mention the bar mitzvah boy of long ago.

Still, Ya'akov is one of the branch's veteran clerks, and he may even go back to Victor's time. Yaakov is my "equities" adviser. I'm putting "equities" in inverted commas because, as God is my witness, I haven't a clue what it means. Every now and then Ya'akov calls me and holds a sort of ceremony-cum-formal conversation, one that he is obliged to conduct by law, I suppose - that is, to brief me about what he is about to do with the remains of my salary.

Occasionally Ya'akov, or people in his name, send me a nice letter from the bank, which I throw straight into the garbage bin without opening. There's no chance I'd understand what those letters say. The letters flicker before my eyes: "At your instruction (my instruction?) we have purchased for you the following equities..." The letters continue to dart: Halman-Aldubi Iceland Bonds, Psagot Investments Overseas, Psagot China E, Psagot best in - I haven't changed a thing, that's exactly what Ya'akov's letters say.

What does "Halman-Alduby Iceland" have to do with me? What the hell is "Psagot China E?" Ya'akov keeps calling, I keep not understanding anything.

Once I tried to break out of my ignorance. In February 1993 I visited the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and even wrote an article about my impressions for the Haaretz weekend magazine. A skilled PR guy tried to explain to me what arbitrage was, I didn't understand a thing, and the "trade guides' section manager" - that's how the man was presented to me - said staunchly: "Nothing will break us. We're a section that's passed its worst ordeals. We're from the '83 generation, we're not afraid of anything."

Not afraid of anything? Generation of '83? What was that - another heroic crossing of the Suez Canal, or a mythological parachute drop into the Mitla Pass? My main impression of my miserable visit to the stock exchange was that the criers were loud, shouted a lot, pronounced "supply" wrongly and drank a lot of mineral water when they were tense.

This week I wondered whether to call Ya'akov. I believe this illustrates the gravity of the situation more than all the analysts. I had never called Ya'akov to ask him what to do before. The headlines screamed catastrophe, the screens were painted red, as if to say Apocalypse Now, and I decided in my panic to call Ya'akov.

Ring, ring, ring - but Ya'akov wasn't answering this week. Either that, or his phone was busy whenever I tried.

Ya'akov, phone home! If I understand correctly, I'm in big, big trouble.