Only In Israel

Sep 23rd, 2010 | By | Category: Columns, Only In Israel


Do you remember when you first made aliyah? When being a “friar” was actually kind of fun? Well, in case you forgot, this edition of “Only In Israel” is dedicated to the Oleh Hadash (new immigrant) in all of us.

Fiat 127


When I first came to Israel, I bought an old Fiat 127 for 750 shekels. This hunk of junk was so bad that it could not make it up the hill on the main road to Tel Aviv. I actually had to get off in Mivaseret Tzion, and use side streets to get to the other side of the hump, where I could rejoin the main road and cruise (downhill!) towards Tel Aviv.

Three months (and 3,000 shekels worth of repairs) later, I decided that I’d had just about enough of this jalopy, and I decided to sell it. This was not too hard to do, because just about every time I went into a gas station, the Arabs that worked there would walk up to me and ask me if I wanted to sell the car. Apparently, Fiat 127’s were in very high demand in their culture, both for the car itself and for the parts. In the end, however, I decided to sell it to a Jewish “brother” rather than one of our “cousins”.

The price was agreed upon at 750 shekels — the same amount I paid for the car, the paperwork was completed, and the vehicle transferred ownership. I was so happy to be free of my burden that I did not even blink an eye when Yehuda told me he would have the money for me “in a couple of weeks”.

About two months after the sale, I ran into Yehuda on the street, and I asked him how he was getting along with the car. “I have bad news achi,” he said, “the car was stolen.” I told him that I was not at all surprised and explained to him how I had discovered that the car was in high demand among Arabs. We departed and, car-less, he walked away.

A few weeks later, I happened to meet him again. I asked him, “So, are you going to buy a new car one of these days?” With a big grin on his face, he explained, “I don’t have to, achi. Come with me.” We walked outside, and what I saw flabbergasted me. There, parked at the curb, was what I was somehow able to recognize as my old Fiat! “How’d you get it back?”, I asked. He replied, “You’re not gonna believe what happened. About a week ago, I get a call from the police, and they tell me they have recovered my vehicle from an Arab village. When I went down to the lot to pick it up, I could not believe my eyes. The Arabs that stole it had completely fixed it up, and now it runs like new. But not only that, they installed air conditioning, a new stereo system, and gave it a fresh paint job.”

Shocked, and a bit more jealous than maybe I wanted to admit, but nonetheless sincerely happy for Yehuda, I bid him farewell, as he jumped into his souped-up, hot-looking Fiat 127 and sped off into the cool, evening air.

Rahmiel Shearim,
Givat Shaul, Jerusalem

Waiting in line at bank


I had come to Israel in 1993, but lived here as a tourist for the first three years. Now it was May, 1996, and I decided that I wanted to make my relationship with the Jewish State permanent: it was time to make aliyah, officially. I went through all the paperwork, waited on all the lines — again and again — and finally, I had it in my hands: my shiny new teudat zehut (Israeli identity card), the ultimate proof that I was, at long last, an Israeli citizen. I was so proud!

Among the many tasks I needed to do once I became an official citizen of the State of Israel was to switch my bank account from a tourist account over to a regular Israeli account. So, one sunny June morning, I walked into my branch of Bank Benleumi HaRishon to do just that. After waiting on line for about half an hour (a true Israeli ritual in and of itself), I approached the teller and proudly announced to her that I was now an Israeli citizen and that I would like to open a regular Israeli bank account. She hurriedly gave me a bunch of forms to fill out and told me to come back to her when I was done.

As I filled out the forms, my heart swelled with pride when I had to check off my citizenship as “Israeli”, or when I had to enter my teudat zehut number. When I was done, with a big smile on my face, I went back to her. She looked over the forms for a (very long) minute or two, and just when I thought she was about to tell me that something was wrong, she said to me, without looking up, “teudat zehut, please.” Beaming, I proudly produced my shiny new teudat zehut, and as I handed it to her I asked, in my Hebrew (which was by that time already quite good), “Now that I am an Israeli citizen, do I get any special privileges?” Suddenly, she looked up from the pile of papers, glared at me with a cynical look and said, “Yes, now you have the privilege to pay taxes.”

Yonatan Levi
Ein Karem, Jerusalem

dinner setting


We all have our favorite stories about olim hadashim (new immigrants) who misuse our holy Hebrew language. There’s the story I heard (not sure if it’s true or not) about the oleh hadash (new immigrant) who, using his finest Talmudic Hebrew that he learned from the yeshiva back in Brooklyn, asked an Egged bus driver how much a ride costs by saying, “Kama mammon olah nesiyah?”, to which the bus driver responded, “Chamesh va-hetzi zuzim.” (You have to understand Hebrew to get this one.)

Here are a number of stories that I know are true because I heard them firsthand. The first involves the father of an old friend. One day, soon after he arrived in Israel, he sat down with his family in a restaurant and ordered a meal; then he decided to change his order. He called over the waitress and, intending to say to her, “Excuse me, I changed my mind,” he said in his finest Hebrew, “Selicha, ani hichlafti et ha-moach sheli”, which does indeed literally mean what he intended, but in modern Hebrew conveys the message, “Excuse me, I gave myself a brain transplant.”

Next, there was the friend of mine who needed to buy spices in the shuk. Using his finest American yeshiva Hebrew, he went from store to store asking the workers if they knew a place where he could buy “samim“. The only problem is, “samim” in modern Hebrew does not mean spices, it means drugs, as in the illegal type. Luckily, one store owner had mercy on my friend and explained to him the error of his ways.

Finally, there was the friend who, when he first came to Israel, was invited to sit at the table of a famous IDF general. This particular general served in the Israeli army in artillery, which in Hebrew is “tot-cha-nim”. Unfortunately, my friend’s Hebrew was still “under construction”, so when he finally had the nerve to strike up a conversation with the general, instead of saying, “Ani mavin she-ata misharet b’tzava b’tot-cha-nim” (I understand that you serve in the army in artillery), he said, “Ani mavin she-ata misharet b’tzava b’tach-to-nim”, which means, “I understand that you serve in the army in your underpants.”

KB Shawnee
Your Jerusalem Staff

“Only In Israel” is a column dedicated to bringing out the lighter side of our special country. Do you have a story that you would like to see published in “Only in Israel”? E-mail us at

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