A New Israeli Driver!

Preparing for my Israeli driving test brought back anxious memories of my struggle to obtain a New York license on a wet, overcast day in 1975. The elderly police officer was intimidating; it took every ounce of concentration to stop my hands from shaking as I clenched the steering wheel. Technically everything was going well until I tapped the curb while parallel parking. I recall to this day his loud lecture “if a child had been playing on the tree lawn you would have killed him!” A bit of an exaggeration, but it didn’t matter as it constituted instant failure.

Determined to obtain my license – and the perceived freedom that comes with one – I applied for a new test. The morning of my second test something was wrong with my mother’s car, but before I had a chance to panic my father arranged for the use of a friend’s station wagon. It was a sunny day and I was relieved when a much younger officer approached the car. I glanced in the mirror, my makeup looked good and my outfit was certainly alluring enough to keep his mind off the road. Good to go. The test went well; I did a perfect 3-point turn and parallel parked without hitting the curb. We got out of the car and as I was expecting him to hand me the approved paperwork, he walked around to the back of the vehicle and pointed to the college logo sticker smeared across the tailgate window. I fought back angry tears as he wrote FAILED across the paperwork and informed me “it’s illegal to have stickers on the rear window. They impair vision. I’ll have to give you a ticket for this; I need to see the registration.” I failed because the car failed and my father’s friend received a ticket to boot!

Desperate, I queried many fellow students and learned that tests in the next county were easier to pass. Confidently waiting at the curb for my third test, I cringed as another old geezer (probably about the age I am now) strolled toward the car I had borrowed. Pulling away from the curb, I followed all his commands and eventually bumped the curb doing my parallel park. My disappointed sigh brought out the best in this kindly old cop. He told me it was okay and had me try it again. A few minutes later he handed me the paperwork that said Passed and told me to go to DMV to pick up my license!

Fast forward 33 years to my Israeli driving test. The most challenging part of this ordeal was finding the test location. The most challenging part of this ordeal was finding the test location. Since Michael had been denied an opportunity to take his test because he was five minutes late due to his bus being stuck in traffic and inaccurate directions provided by our driving instructor, I wasn’t taking any chances. I left for my 1:30 p.m. appointment right after taking Yisrael and his friend Mandy to ulpan Sunday morning. But first I had to go to the Maaleh Adumim post office to pay my 60 shekel test fee. (Why did I wait until the last minute to do this? Because that’s what the Nefesh B’Nefesh instructions indicated – they were wrong, I could have done it in advance.)

With that task completed, I caught a bus to the central station and amazingly the number 21 bus to Talpiot showed up in less than 10 minutes. Determined to find the testing location before tackling my shopping list, I remained on the bus as it passed the Hadar Mall. Fortunately the bus driver understood my poor Hebrew and pointed out the exact location for me. Here are the directions:

Take the #21 Bus from the central bus station – the one that is across the street from the station (the one on the same side as the station goes to Bayit Vegan).

Pass the Hadar Mall

The bus will pass the traffic circle where you should notice the Police Station and Keter on your left

It will proceed downhill to another traffic circle at the corner of HaSadna and HaUman

And turn left onto HaUman. Get off at the first bus stop on HaUman.

You will see a string of car dealerships and fast food places on your right. Walk up to the corner with the traffic light, you should see a fenced in parking lot across the street in front of you. That’s where the motorcycle tests take place.

Turn right. You should see a small post office building across the street.

Cross at the crosswalk and enter the parking lot. Pass the post office and keep walking until you reach the big building ahead of you. Your driving instructor will meet you beside or in front of that building. You should have arranged for the meeting spot in advance and have his/her cell phone number in case you get lost or are running late.

So how did my Israeli driving test go? It was different than my previous tests in that three victims go in the car to be tested at the same time. I had two younger women with me; we’ll call the first one Ann and the second Liz in order to spare them embarrassment. Ann decided she wanted to go second and while Liz (who had failed her first test) ran to the post office to pay her 60 shekel fee (the instructor hadn’t given her the form yet), I agreed to go first. Both women remarked that they didn’t think Americans knew how to drive manual transmissions – they assumed all Americans only drove automatics.

Waiting for the tester, I got in the car and adjusted the seat and mirrors. The man arrived and greeted us pleasantly and was even willing to wait a few minutes for Liz. Then he motioned for me to drive. I stopped at the parking lot’s yield sign because there was oncoming traffic. Then I noticed a chance to get out quickly and did so, however, it seems I upset the driver of a very large truck who failed to communicate with his signal light that he had planned to enter the right lane. He laid on his horn startling me. Suppressing a strong desire to yell and wave my arm out the window at him (a part of Israeli culture I easily adapt to), I made two left turns per the tester’s instructions. After I correctly yielded, stopped on a hill, and smoothly matched the clutch and brakes as I made the second left, he told me to pull over and let Ann drive. I was concerned because I had only driven for THREE MINUTES. Was he failing me because the truck blew his horn at me? Had I missed something?

Next Ann, a tall young woman from England, got behind the wheel and neglected to adjust the seat or mirrors and almost hit another test car as she pulled out. During her four minute test the tester grabbed the wheel, shifted the car and yelled at her several times. (This reminded me of my high school driver’s ed experiences with the teacher from hell! Mr. Wilkinson hated cats and would intentionally slam his foot on the brake pedal while I was driving on icy roads to punish me for not hitting the last cat I avoided!). Ann kept grinding the clutch and slamming on the brakes and at one point the tester glanced back at me and motioned for me to put my seatbelt on. I suspect she failed. When she and Liz switched she got in the back seat and was shaking uncontrollably.

Since Liz was on her second chance, failure would mean she’d have to take 28 lessons and go through more extensive testing. During her 11 minute test, she stalled the car twice, ground the clutch and caused the instructor to yell, grab the wheel and the shifter a few times. Her spatial judgment was off as a bus came toward her on a narrow street and she froze. The instructor made her drive forward, grabbing the wheel to steer her around the bus demonstrating that she had plenty of room. I suspect he gave her the longest test in hopes that she would prove her ability and allow him to give her a passing grade.

The most stressful part of this test was dealing with the other drivers on the road who made me wonder how they ever passed this test. I’m a big supporter of retesting at certain milestone birthdays!

When we returned to the testing station we each paid our instructor 500 shekels for the use of his very nice car and he told us he’d call around 4:30 with our results.

At 3:50 p.m. I was walking down the hill across from Misrad Harishui when he called to say that I passed and could pick up my license. “Great!” I responded, “I’m right across the street, I’ll go there now”. To which he replied “No, you have to wait until tomorrow because it’s not in the computer yet”. I couldn’t go on Monday because I was way up in Givat Shaul for my writing class and the license place closes at 1 p.m. on Monday.

In the meantime I treated myself to a feta cheese melt (with olives, pesto and tomatoes) and freshly made carrot-apple juice in celebration for completing this milestone in the Aliyah process.

On Tuesday, after Yisrael’s ulpan outing, we headed into Jerusalem at 12:45 where we had a nice pizza lunch, shopped around the central bus station and then caught the 2 p.m. bus to Talpiot. We arrived about 45 minutes later and were surprised to see four people ahead of us waiting on the steps for the place to re-open from their siesta at 3:30.

This is one of those places where you see Israeli’s at their worst. As we sat on the steps Yisrael played his Game Boy and I continued reading a book for my writing class. At 3:20 there was a commotion at the door and as I glanced up I realized that many men had slipped ahead of me up the stairs crowding in front of the door. Out walks this angry guard with a set of aisle dividers – like the ones used in movie theatres – and sets them up leaving Yisrael and I, and two men on one side and about 50 people on the other while growling and yelling something incomprehensible to me.

A few minutes passed and he came back out yelling and this time people started pushing and shoving backwards! I held on to Yisrael and strained my back and legs attempting to keep us both balanced for fear of falling down the stairs, and asked a young lady a few steps up what he was saying. She indicated that he wanted everyone to move to the side that I was on and they proceeded to do so, while shoving me backwards! If the idiot had just told everyone to step to the right in the first place – before setting up his divider – this dangerous situation could have been avoided. But since I have experience with this particular guard (from the day I went in to get the green form processed – the step required prior to making an appointment with the driving instructor), I suspect that this is how he gets his jollies.

Yisrael was getting crushed, I was teetering backwards and something inside me snapped! I began yelling at the big guys in front of me to stop pushing because we had nowhere to go (except on top of the people behind us). I doubt many of them understood English – or Hebrew for that matter – since most were big Russian men blowing their nasty cigarette smoke in people’s faces. The guy in front of me surrendered, allowing Yisrael and I to move to a safe spot.

By the time we got inside the building we were in the 13th position, instead of 5th. The next challenge was getting through security with our backpacks. The female guard kept asking me something in Hebrew and I kept telling her “slicha, aval ani mevina ivrit lo kol kach tov” (sorry, but I don’t understand Hebrew well). After going in circles a few too many times with this, she finally waved me through. While this was going on, I sent Yisrael ahead to get me a ticket before I lost a few more positions in line! I felt bad when I entered the big hall and saw him standing next to Sergeant Schultz (remember that character from Hogan’s Heroes? Well this guy looks like him, but isn’t as nice – or smart)! The guard refused to allow him to take a ticket, and as I reached for one he stopped me too! He asked for my tuedat zehut and wanted to know why I was there – I understood that much of his heavily accented Hebrew. I told him and he directed me to a different room with yet another line! Fifteen minutes later I departed the building (hopefully never to return again) with my temporary driver’s license.

Payment Stub

The next step is for me to take the payment stub along with 379 shekels, to the post office, which I haven’t done yet because they were closed by the time I received the paperwork yesterday and they’re not open on Wednesdays. Approximately eight weeks after that I should receive my photo license card in the mail – it’s amazing that out of all the steps involved in accomplishing the task of converting a foreign driver’s license, they trust this most important step to the post office!

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