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Danita and Michel Aziza


By Danita Aziza, September 1, 2010

LESSON #13:  Treat People With a Smile and Generally you Get what you Need

I always tell the kids, “If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you!”   This is what my parents taught me and from growing up in Calgary in the 1970’s until today I have generally found that if you are polite and respectful to people they will usually treat you in kind. 

When we came to Israel people were quick to offer the advice of not being to kind if you want to get what you need.  Israelis tend to be tough and assertive and if you’re not, many would profess that you get taken advantage of, pushed out of line and sent away empty handed when you need to get something that is not so easily acquired.  I set out to prove them wrong, and in spite of the rare exception, I’ve generally retained my “niceness” and have been pretty successful at getting what I need and this includes trying to change into another lane on the highway. My kids cringe and slouch in their seat when I put my hand out the window to wave to the guy who really had no intention of letting me into his lane.  The fact that nobody does that here, or so I’m told, doesn’t deter me.

This was a big week in terms of having to deal with a number of government offices.  The week started on Sunday with an appointment for Michel, Rachel and myself at Misrad Hapanim (Office of the Interior) to renew our A1 Temporary Resident Visa.  We arrived at 8 a.m. and by 8:15 were crammed into the small cubicle seated across the desk from Tzipi whose job it was to review our file and extend our visa for another year.  It was Sunday morning and Tzipi looked tired and a bit overwhelmed by the crowd that had gathered in the small stuffy office.  We went through the motions of filling out forms, outwardly  pleasant and not overly bothered by the length of time it was taking her to plug our info into her computer (Ok Michel was a little more bothered than I was by the lack of efficiency.)
As she typed, Tzipi , managed to lose her concentration  at a point and ask where in Canada we were from.  “Winnipeg” I blurted out relieved by the break in silence.  She immediately stopped typing and her face lit up as she told us that she had processed the Aliyah application for someone from Winnipeg in the 1990s and had lost track of his whereabouts.   We volunteered to inquire after him and get back to her and with that she handed us our visa which she extended for two years saving us the hassle of coming back again next August.  A smile, some patience and being from Winnipeg was a winning combination in this situation.

On Monday, Benji and I ventured to Misrad Haklita (Office for Absorption) to secure his Teudah Oleh (New Immigrant Identification card) and see about the various rights that are given to a person who makes Aliyah.  Apart from tax benefits for purchasing a car or property, tuition free university and free ulpan, a person or family who makes aliyah is given what is called a Sal Klita (absorption basket) which is the payment of money intended to help with the absorption process.  I met Benji at the office and after going through security found him seated across from an expressionless government worker who didn’t even seem to notice that I had entered the room.  Benji immediately made a face and I gave him that “look”, the one that screams  silently at him to be respectful and patient.  The woman kept scribbling numbers on a piece of paper and then after what seemed like hours, told us in Hebrew that Benji wasn’t eligible for the absorption basket because he had been in the country 1 month and 17 days longer than the period specified for eligibility to receive the payout.  Benji’s agitation began to show, but I simply tried, in my broken Hebrew to explain as nicely as possible that it simply wasn’t fair that because the processing of Benji’s Aliyah by the government took almost two months that they were going to deny him the sal klitah  After putting on my best forlorn look, she got out of her chair and returned with, what I assume was her manager.  

Benji and I left the office not more than 15 minutes later with assurance from the manager that if we were to write a letter explaining the situation and also get a letter from Nefesh B Nefesh who helped Benji with the Aliyah application than there should be no problem in securing his Sal Klitah.  While Benji may  beg to differ, I believe that not becoming overly assertive and sticking to the issue of fairness with perhaps a few warm smiles thrown in for insurance helped us to come out on top yet again.

Perhaps the biggest bureaucratic challenge of the week came on Tuesday when I had to call the army about Benji’s Sav Rishon (initial army enlistment testing).  I chuckle even now as I think about how calling the army was on my list of things to do for Tuesday along with calling the hairdresser and getting groceries.  After being placed on hold( I lost track after six times) I was told that there would be at least a two month wait until Benji received a letter in the mail about his Sav Rishon.  In layman terms I’ve learned that when someone says two months you actually multiply by a factor of two or three.  I’ve also picked up on the fact that sometimes you need to add some assertiveness to the niceness mix when it comes to things that are terribly important, so I immediately placed a call to a friend who offered her expertise in getting what you need in Israel.  Within five hours my friend had called the army, explained Benji’s Oleh Chadash (new immigrant) status to the army officer who answered her call and had written a letter on our behalf asking to expedite the Sav Rishon process.  The following day Benji and I drove to Tel Aviv to hand deliver the letter to the army and now we wait for a response.  

A friend in Winnipeg whose son is studying in Israel relayed a story of her son standing in line to renew his Israeli passport in a crowded Tel Aviv office.  Without enough cash in hand and with a credit card that wasn’t being accepted, an Israeli woman in line behind him upon hearing his distraught call to his mom took his cell phone and told my friend  that in Israel if you smile you will eventually get what you need.  The complete stranger offered to give my friend’s son the money needed to renew his passport.   He got his passport, we got a two year visa, Benji got his Sal Klita and hopefully his Sav Rishon letter will come within a few weeks.  All of this simply by being nice and dealing with people with a smile.  There’s certainly a lesson to be learned here.

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