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Israel Survival Tips: Part 3 – Driver’s Licenses

14 Nov

While I can’t imagine a trip to the DMV is fun in any country, the process of converting your foreign license to an Israeli driver’s license may be one of the most convoluted, expensive, and bureaucratic processes you have to go through when moving to Israel. It involves multiple visits to various places and getting the appropriate rubber stamp at each office. Hopefully, this post will save you some time and anguish.

First off: you’re apparently permitted to drive in Israel for a year after arrival using your foreign license. This, however, doesn’t mean that if you borrow your friend’s car, the insurance of the car will cover you. Read the fine print (in Hebrew, naturally) on the policy. After a year, you’re no longer allowed to drive without an Israeli license, and if you do it’s illegal and no insurance policy will cover you.

The first step in the process is to obtain the necessary paperwork – essentially a green form which confirms that you are medically and visually fit to drive a car. Unlike in the States, this is not done at the DMV. You have to visit a Teldor or Marmanet store in your city (the “moked” can tell you where – call either 1-559-50-20-30 and/or 03-929-8587). Show up with your Teudat Zehut and Teudat Oleh (and any other documents that might be needed, like your passport). This store will issue you the correct form and will give you an eye test. I went to store at 139 Ibn Gvirol in Tel Aviv – it took almost no time and cost 50 shekels. I walked away with my form, my photograph printed into it, stamped with the eye test results.

The next step is to take this same form to a doctor to get a stamp indicating you are fit to drive. If you don’t already have a regular doctor, just call your Kupat Cholim’s moked and ask for an appointment with any family doctor. The Kupat Cholim covers the cost of the doctor’s visit.

Be sure that at both places, you get official stamps on the form – without them the DMV will not accept the form.

Next: take the form, your foreign driver’s license, your passport(s), your Teudat Zehut, and your Teudat Oleh to the DMV. Every DMV branch is different, but my experience at Holon (the branch responsible for Tel Aviv) should reflect what you’d go through elsewhere. First thing to check is what days they deal with Hamarat Reshiyon Zar (exchange of foreign driver’s license). In Holon, this is on Monday and Wednesday from 07:30 to 13:30, but definitely double-check. The DMV has a website, though most of the information is available only in Hebrew. Once at the DMV, ask the information desk which line to get in and then wait. When it’s your turn, the person will verify that your form is filled out correctly and that you have the right to exchange your license (meaning that your foreign license is not expired and was issued during the last three years). Once they sign your form the real fun begins.

In Israel, to exchange your license, you have to pass a road test. This requires finding a driving instructor because you cannot take the test with a private car – it must be the car of a licensed driving instructor. So to find a driving instructor, go around back the DMV and look for the aging men sitting under the tree. Any one of these guys will be happy to provide his car for your test. I used a guy called Sammy – he was reliable and friendly (just ask for him).  Once you’ve selected an instructor, he (naturally) fills out more forms and will then schedule a date for your test. If you do not drive stick, make sure you find an instructor who has an automatic vehicle (and note that your license will indicate that you are not allowed to drive stick in Israel). At this point the instructor will convince you to take two lessons with him. Naturally, it’s all a ploy to get you to spend more money, but I took the classes and found them useful (I learned very little, but I entered into test mode).  Each lesson should cost 90 shekels for a stick, or 100 shekels for an automatic.

When you set up the time for your test, the instructor should give you a bill for 58 shekels.  This sum is used to pay the tester.  You have to take this to any post office and pay the sum, or else the tester won’t show up to your test.

Typically you’ll have your second lesson right before the test, and this is also when you pay your instructor for the two lessons and for using his car to take the exam.  To take the exam in his car costs 350 shekels.  When you are taking your test and reach the end of the examination, the tester will not tell you if you passed (unlike in the States) – apparently they don’t like to be asked, either. You can call your instructor later in the day and have them check if you want to know.

You’re almost there.  If you failed the test, you’ll have to show up and get your form back and schedule another test with an instructor.  You get two chances total.  If you fail the second time, you have to take 28 driving lessons (at 100 shekels a pop, that’s not something you want).  If you passed the test, you show up and supposedly your temporary license is waiting for you (of course, when I showed up, it wasn’t ready because the tester forgot to sign the form).  Either way, you have to show up in person and go back to the same line. Once you have your temporary license in hand, take it to any post office or bank and pay the 372 shekels to get your real license. Your permanent license is sent by mail – expect up to two months (mine took just over one month).

Again, the process is tedious, obnoxious, and expensive (50 – Eye Test, 100 – Lesson, 100 – Lesson, 350 – Examination, 58 – Tester, 372 – License = 1,030 shekels), but if you plan to drive in Israel, it’s necessary.

Drive safely, and feel free to post any questions in the comments of this post.

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The Hidden Lake

4 Sep

After hearing much about a “hidden” lake in northern Israel, Ofri, Nachshon, and I set out to find it. Nestled in between some cliffs and desert-like sand, we found the lake glimmering in the sun. It may be hidden from view, but at least 25 others were able to find it this past Saturday. It was totally beautiful, the water was cool, and the swimming was fantastic. I didn’t know Israel actually had bodies of water other than the Galilee and the Dead Sea. It was refreshing to swim in water that doesn’t sting from salt. The lake is extremely deep – 5 meters at the edge – and fairly big (for Israel): 40 meters by 150 meters. Here are some photos.

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

Mayumana and David Broza

6 Aug

Today I’m 25 and while I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, at least now I can rent a car like a normal person.

Last night, to celebrate my birthday, Ofri took me to a performance in Yaffo by a group called Mayumana. The troupe performed with one of my favorite Israeli artists, David Broza. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was totally impressed. It’s a bit hard to explain what the group does, but it’s some sort of well-choreographed composition of dancing, singing, breakdancing, beatboxing, drumming, guitar playing, lighting, trash cans, violions, didjs, and comedy. David Broza mixed in with the group extremely well, playing quite a few of his songs while Mayumana did their thing around him, in tight coordination. I was probably most impressed by how talented each individual was, exhibiting such a wide range of skills. Beyond that, the show started right on time, the place was clean, and everything was well arranged.

It’s well worth the evening. To give you a sense of what goes on, I’m including some a photo and video clip from another performance. Each show is different, but it conveys the general idea. If you’re in Israel in August, I’d highly recommend going.

Mayumana

In Search of Forests

31 Jul

One of the things I miss the most from my years in Amherst, Ithaca, and San Francisco is the woods. Green trees, ferns, moss, trails covered in pine needles, soft loam under my feet. Though it’s certainly not void of nature, Israel is definitely not lush. Trails tend to be dusty and dry and there are no forests like those in Amherst. For a long time, I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that Israelis keep bragging about when it comes to Israeli nature. Yes, it is beautiful, but I’ve always missed the woods. So recently I set out to find the closest thing I could find to a forest in Israel, and I was pleasantly surprised. Ofri, Nir, and I set out for a day hike in Ya’ar Kdoshim near Jerusalem (next to a town called Beit Meir). It was beautiful and uniquely Israel, and it made me realize that, with some effort, I can find nature that I can relate to here in Israel. I really enjoyed myself. Here are some photos:

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Music in Israel

30 Jul

One of my first complaints after having arrived in Israel was that I’d no longer be able to go see bands that I like perform live shows.

It’s the sad truth that the artists I like will, for the most part, never play a show in Israel due to the security situation and because, unlike Europe, the expense of travelling here can’t be offset by visiting nearby countries (“Iron and Wine Live in Damascus”? I don’t think so). As such, these bands will remain relatively unknown in Israel, which in turn means that no one will really know who I’m talking about when I’m asked what I listen to. I guess I can live with that – I’ll always have the Internet to find and listen to new music.

But it turns out that, at least to a small extent, I’m wrong. This summer saw the arrival of indie rock artists Devandra Banhart and the Silver Jews. I was in the States at the time, so I can’t comment on the shows or the audience they drew, but just the fact that the shows were played makes me happy.

I did, however, manage to catch two shows last week – the first two I’ve seen in Israel in a long time. The first was Ziggy Marley. Though not a huge fan, I have two of his discs and I like some of his more upbeat songs. I didn’t think too much in advance of what to expect and as such, I managed to keep a relatively open mind. My first reaction was that the venue (Ra’anana Amphipark) was great – an open air theater-style venue, with floor, pavillion, and lawn sections. It reminded me of Great Woods, Shoreline, and other similar American venues. The crowd was, not surpringly, pretty similar to what you’d see at a jamband concert in the States – a bunch of mostly young, white, dread-locked music fans. The exception was, much to the delight of my anthropological curiousity, the relatively large contingent of young Ethiopian Israelis. It’s rare that these groups mix, not because of prejudice but more because of lack of opportunity, and the result was definitely positive. The vibe in the crowd was mixed, though overall pretty good, and characteristically Israeli (though definitely subdued, as you’d expect at a reggae show). The music was what I expected and was performed well, though it didn’t lend itself particuarlly well to dancing, and the result was a bunch of people standing around on the floor. This was probably because of both the nature of the music itself (Ziggy’s brand of reggae is a bit more aggressive and rock-infused than other types, with various changes in tempo through the course of each song) and because, overall, I think there was a mismatch between the crowd’s expectations and what they received. I’m not sure anyone in Israel has really heard of Ziggy Marley, but they all love Bob, and I think that’s what they were expecting to hear, or at least something similar and familiar. The two encores were my personal highlight, given that they contained the most upbeat songs. I was surprised to hear him play “No Woman No Cry” as the second encore, but the crowd’s delight made up for (what I consider to be) a sellout move. I wonder if he plays his father’s songs in the States, or if it was only to address the crowd’s clear yearning for something familiar. On a final note, I think Ziggy could have done more to connect with the crowd and get everyone more enthusiastic – he barely spoke. I wonder if it’s because that’s just his style or if he didn’t think he could interact with the crowd without voicing an opinion on the current conflict, possibly an opinion that no one in Israel wants to pay 200 shekels to hear.

The second show was performed by a New York Jew called Jewlia Eisenberg (does she spell her first name like that for real?).  It took place in a cool new venue on Levontine street in southern Tel Aviv.  It reminded me a bit of Cafe du Nord in San Francisco because of its basement appeal, though a lot more grungy and with less history (Cafe du Nord was a Speakeasy in the early 1900s).  The music was a shock – I haven’t really heard anything like it, though I guess if I were to categorize it, it’d be somewhere in the punk realm – instrumentation included a beatboxer, a violin, a trumpet, percussion, guitar, recorder, and accordian.  Jewlia was full of energy, a clear fan of Israel, and it was apparent in her singing (some of which was, strangely, in Yiddish).  The music was strange to my ears in that it was clearly composed, but completely unconventional in style – I couldn’t discern any verses or choruses, any set tempo, or any repeating features.  But it was certainly interesting and worthwhile.  It made me happy to see that alternative kinds of music are being played in Tel Aviv and that they are well received.  It leads me to believe that, if only exposed, Israelis would love a lot of the underground / less-known artists so common in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Ithaca, and elsewhere.

I’ll continue the search for live music in Israel that appeals to me and I suspect that some day I’ll find something I’m really into.  In the mean time, I have my MP3s 🙂

War with Lebanon

15 Jul

It’s a little hard to believe that I landed in Israel after a five week visit to the States, only to witness a war starting.  I’ve never been in a country that was being bombed. As the bombs are still landing far away (in Israeli terms – about an hour north of here), it still hasn’t really struck me personally.  But I have a sinking suspicion that before long, I’ll be spending nights in the bomb shelter of my building in Tel Aviv.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.

But at the same time, much to my amazement, I support the Israeli offensive against Hezbollah and Lebanon.  Those who know me, know that I’ve typically leaned toward being an advocate of restraint, diplomacy, and giving the Palestinian people a chance to prove what I hope are their good-natured intentions.  But now it seems as though this policy has, at least in part, led us to where we are today.  Israel can no longer afford to sit idly by as its young soliders are kidnapped – the time for action has come, as much as I had hoped it could have been avoided.

I, by all means, feel sorry for the Lebanese people and the Israelis in the north of the country.  Lebanese infrastructure is being wiped out and the ordinary Lebanese citizen is paying the price for the extremism practiced by the terrorists.  It’s sad for me to think that the Lebanese probably view the IDF in much the same way as we view Hezbollah – terrorists inflicting needless pain.  Even so, I believe that it’s imperative for Israel to take this action – it is time to change the rules of the game.  If Israel can weaken Hezbollah and provide the Lebanese government the incentive to dismantle the organization, then the region will be better off.  I think that there’s little chance of that happening for several reasons: the Lebanese army is afraid of Hezbollah, even in an a weekend state and the Lebanese are probably unlikely to want to attack other Lebanese after 20 years of civil war.  But still, it is about the only thing I can see Israel doing at this point.

I’d be very interested to hear what the average Lebanese citizen thinks of Hezbollah and the Israeli offensive.

In Israel, Israelis are taking the situation in stride, though it’s clearly more than another suicide bombing.  People are a bit shaken, as most people have friends and family in the north.  The situation is young and is likely to continue for some time.  In the mean time, let’s hope that some progress can be made, either diplomatically or in damaging Hezbollah to the point where they can no longer attack northern Israel.

Israel Survival Tips – Part 2: Transportation

12 Jun

This is more of a Tel Aviv survival tip, though parts of it should apply to other parts of Israel as well. In any country, getting around is crucial. Given Israel's small size, it's not too hard or expensive to get around – certainly when compared with transportation in the United States. I've picked up some general knowledge about and have some suggestions for getting around in Tel Aviv and Israel, and I'll share them with you here.

Taxis: Personally, while definitely the fastest way to get from place to place, I despise taking cabs in Israel. As in most countries, the cab drivers in Tel Aviv are rude and always looking to scam you. If you know your way around, you're generally fine since you can call the cab driver on it if he tries to take you for a ride. Otherwise, you're more or less at his mercy – pretend like you know where you're going. You can either agree to "moneh" (meter) or you can request a fixed price. I think the latter is illegal, but almost every cab driver loves to do it. Generally you can get 5 shekels knocked off the price if you bargain and know how much the ride should cost. If you live somewhere where there aren't cabs driving around, you can call any cab company and they'll have a cab at your door quickly. I have had good luck with "Kastel." Note: cab drivers are allowed to and do tack on extra money for additional passengers, travelling late at night, and for luggage. Another note: inter-city travel is not charged with the meter – there is a fixed rate between every two cities in Israel.

Trains: I've only taken the train once and it was a very pleasant experience. While not cheap, nor particularly frequent, if the train goes where you need to go, it's easy and fast. In particular for destinations like Haifa and Be'er Sheva, it's a good way to go. Their website provides useful information.

Subway: The Tel Aviv subway does not exist, but supposedly there are plans to build one, mostly with routes to the neighboring suburbs. The intended completion date is 2012, but whenever I discuss the subject with anyone, I just get a hearty chuckle and some rolled eyes.

Inner-city buses: Tel Aviv's buses are actually excellent – fairly cheap and reliable. Depending on the route, the bus can take forever, stopping everywhere, or it can be an express, reaching your destination relatively quickly. Most buses start and end at a bus terminal – Reading, Carmelit, Arlozorov, or the central station. My biggest gripe is that if you need to take two buses, you have to pay two fares – most cities (San Francisco, NYC, Chicago, Amsterdam) in the world offer free or cheap transfers. Because of this, if you need to take two buses and have a travel companion, you're sometimes better off taking a cab. There are, however, some ways to save money if you ride the bus often. One is a "kartisiya" – a prepaid pass of ten rides. The price comes to about a shekel less per ride. When you get on the bus, just ask for a "kartisiya". From then on, just hand the driver the pass, and he'll punch a hole in one of the rides. Another option if you ride more than twice a day, every day, is a "hofshee hodshee" – a monthly pass. These cost about 200 shekels for the one-zone pass and offer you a great deal of freedom. These are also available for purchase from the bus driver. Personally, I like unlimited passes in any city, but in Tel Aviv especially – it's a great way to get to know the bus system and the city itself, as you can just hop on any bus without thinking about the money. The biggest problem with buses in Israel, however, is that they stop at midnight (or earlier), and do not run on Saturdays or holidays.

Inter-city buses: I've taken several of these. They are almost always on time, reliable, and comfortable coaches. The beautiful thing is that you can get almost anywhere in Israel on a bus.  In Tel Aviv, long distance buses leave from Arlozorov or the "new" central station (it's not so new, it's just newer than the old one).  Some buses, like Tel Aviv to Kfar Saba leave from the Carmelit depot.

Shared taxis ("monit sherut"): This is by far my favorite means of transportation. Cheaper than a single ride on a bus, shared taxis ply popular routes much more frequently than buses, with fewer people, fewer stops, and a more direct route. They also run later than any bus and travel on Shabbat and holidays. They are large, typically yellow, vans with a taxi sign on top. You can hail it just like a cab from any bus station on the route it travels. If it doesn't stop, it's full. When you get on, ask the driver how much it costs to your destination as you are boarding – some times they'll try to overcharge you by a shekel if you don't know the price, but usually not. Within the city it's 5 shekels.  You can pay once you are seated – just pass the money to the person in front of you. The only problem with shared taxis is that there aren't many routes – if there are none going where you need to go, you're out of luck. However, they're so good that I often walk 20 minutes just to take one – the advantages make up for it.  It's also a good means of getting between cities (Natanya and Tel Aviv, for instance).

In general, getting around Israel is easy once you know your options. The Dan and Egged websites are good resources, as are their telephone support options. If you have any questions, maybe I can help – just post a comment.

Have a nice trip.