Preparing for Aliyah: Passport Renewals

While moving files from the hard drive of my broken computer to this one, I came across this document I wrote seven months before making Aliyah (I remember jotting down notes throughout the day to capture it accurately). So I’m now sharing with you one of my pre-Aliyah experiences.

Today (Monday, December 17, 2007) has been one of THE most STRESSFUL days of my life!

7:15 AM I’m not feeling well, the pediatrician told me yesterday that my son has a virus and today I feel it pursuing me. I come downstairs and log in to work to tell my boss that I’m taking a sick day. While I wait for the laptop to boot up through its many security layers, I log on to my own laptop to check e-mail and find one from the Application Department at Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) telling me that:

  1. “We are pleased to inform you that our office has received your application for Nefesh B’Nefesh assistance in Aliyah 2008”
    • November 21st (the Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving) – I sent the application package via Priority Mail to their NY office.
    • November 26th – according to the U.S. Postal Service, the package was delivered to NBN’s NY office.
    • December 5th – I had previously been told that upon receipt they would call and e-mail us to confirm receipt. Since I still hadn’t heard from them I called and e-mailed the Jerusalem office. I was told on the phone that my package had been hand carried by one of their employees from NY because I sent it in a box (since I considered it an extremely important set of documentation, I placed each page in a plastic sheet protector and then inside a binder, inside a Priority Mail box – I guess this was out of the ordinary). Via e-mail, another NBN Application Dept. representative told me that they had not received the package yet.
    • December 9th – the person who told me the package hadn’t arrived on December 5th e-mailed me: “I am aware that someone told you that it had arrived, but we have been unable to process it do to the Channukka holiday, as some of our staff are out. We will let you know as soon as we can process it. This generally speaking takes 4-6 weeks to process completely so please be patient.” (Patience is not my middle name.)
  2. “Please note that at this time our staff is focused on processing applications for Aliyah in Spring 2008. Processing of Applications for Summer 2008 will begin in the upcoming months, once all missing components have been received. NBN will notify you regarding services and financial grants in the Spring, once your application has completed review.”
    • We rushed our application to them early in hopes that we would have their decision prior to our January pilot trip because their financial assistance will determine where we can live when we arrive and while we’re attending ulpan during our first 6 to 8 months in Israel.
  3. The passport sent is due to expire in August and for government processing all passports must be good for at least six months after your date of Aliyah. Please photocopy the main page with your picture, as well as any additional pages that indicate date extensions or name changes. Please note that we cannot review your application and return to you with a decision until all the above missing components have been submitted
    to our office
    .”

    • My son’s passport was due to expire 9 months after the application date! We planned to renew it after we returned from our pilot trip (my husband is very frugal and didn’t want to waste money – he felt it would be wrong to cut 9 months off of the new passport).
    • At no time did our shaliach (who had received the passport copies a long time ago – and reviewed our file in October) ever tell us that it was a requirement that we update his passport prior to submission of our application to the Jewish Agency – which she is holding up until we return from our pilot trip.

I’m now having a nervous breakdown! In reality what this all means is:

  1. If we submit a renewal on his passport right now (December 17th or 18th) we may not have it back in time for our January 13th flight because of the December holidays.
  2. If we don’t get them a renewed passport copy right away, then our application for financial assistance is on hold. They won’t look at it until they receive a copy of the new passport – which we won’t be able to get to them until the end of February! At that point they will BEGIN the four to six week process of reviewing our application and making a decision. Without that decision prior to our pilot trip we will have to add exploring the option of absorption centers to our crammed list of places to visit and people to see during our 13 days in Israel.

Neither of these options gives me a good feeling so I quickly call the NBN application office and leave a voice mail message asking them for help in this matter. 14 hours later and still no reply – in all fairness, it was around 2:30 PM their time when I left the message.

I then fired off an e-mail to the very nice man who handles NBN Education and Community Advisement asking for advice on absorption centers.

8:15 AM After taking care of a few other pressing issues, I spent about an hour of frustration at the U.S. Department of State Passport Office Web site. I learned that:

  • Expedited service is taking approximately 3 weeks (however, with the holidays filling the rest of this month, I’m wondering if they mean 15 business days).
  • Because my son is under the age of 14, we can’t do the simple renewal by mail, we have to complete form DS-11 Application for Passport.
  • Because he is a minor both of us need to be present at a Passport office to renew his passport. However, they do have a form (Statement of Consent: Issuance of a Passport to a Minor Under Age 14: DS-3053) that can be submitted if one parent can’t be present, but it has to be submitted with original signature and notarized.

Because all of this would be cutting it too close for comfort, I want to speak with a Passport agent. I click the Contact Us link and follow the instructions – good luck! I call Passport Services at 1-877-487-2778 and get stuck in an endless loop of recordings that provide instructions (the same that are on the Web site) and refuse to allow me to speak with a human being. Now I’m angry so I call The Office of Policy and Public Affairs at 202-647-1488 to file a complaint. After a long series of instructions that tell a variety of people to hang up and call different phone numbers, I am allowed to leave a message. So I bite my tongue and calmly leave a message demanding (as a tax paying citizen) that someone return my call promptly. Never happened!

9:30 AM What can I do now?!!! Let’s try the Passport Agent at the Post Office! I went to USPS.com and learned that they don’t open until 10 AM.

10:25 AM After being disconnected once, and listening while the phone was laid on the counter for about 20 minutes, I was able to speak to a real human being! Yeah! The woman was very nice as she listened to my tale of woe. She told me that the Israeli requirements were ridiculous and the best she could do was offer Expedited Service. I explained that I was afraid it wouldn’t be returned in time for our January trip. She was about to hang up when a thought crossed her mind – she suggested I call my Congress Person and explained that their office can turn these things around in three days in an emergency situation.

10:40 AM Hating to be involved in American politics, I didn’t even know who my representative was! So I went online, found the information and phoned the office. The person I needed to speak with wasn’t in, so I left a detailed message.

12:45 PM About two (grueling) hours later she called back and listened to my story. She was critical of the Israeli government and said “they’re always changing the rules, we don’t know from one day to the next what they expect”. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to help me because my son’s passport really was valid for the January trip, therefore in their eyes I didn’t really have an emergency.

1:20 PM She called back about an hour later asking for the details to put into a letter. Now the fun part began! She wanted me to come to her office (15 minutes south of my home) and pick up the letter after 2:30 pm.

1:26 PM I called my husband at work and told him to find out if there was a notary in his office.

1:30 PM I tell my son to get his boots and coat on and I run upstairs to put on my sheitel (wig).

1:33 PM My husband calls back and says there is a man on the second floor who is a notary, but he’s not at his desk so the secretary left him a message saying that his services would be needed in an hour.

1:35 PM I go online to find out where the nearest FedEx is because the Congresswoman’s office instructed me to bring them a self-addressed Fed-Ex envelope for the return of the passport – they don’t want to count on the US Postal Service this time of year. Then I went to Mapquest.com and entered the addresses of Fed-Ex, my husband’s office (he only recently began working there and I’ve never been there) and the Congresswoman’s office, and printed the directions.

1:45 PM We’re driving through the snow in our driveway (we had a blizzard yesterday – literally!) because we have both suffered back injuries this year and aren’t going to risk further damage – and because my husband didn’t think it necessary to hire someone when it was early enough to have them put their stakes in the ground (if they don’t have that opportunity they won’t be held responsible for damage to the grass or concrete).

2:20 PM I’m on my cell frantically shouting at my husband for directions because after coming off the exit and passing one traffic light I am now on a country road – it turns out that Brecksville Road (where I was supposed to turn left) doesn’t have a sign!

2:30 PM We arrive at the office and rush into the secretary’s desk. She hasn’t heard from the Notary! She calls and he’s not at his desk. She explains he may be in a meeting. I am now fuming at my husband and through clenched teeth quietly saying over and over “I can’t believe you made me drive all the way out here in the snow for NOTHING!!! The woman takes pity on him and tells us to wait in the lobby while she rushes upstairs to find the Notary.

2:45 PM The papers have been notarized and I’m driving frantically to get to the Congresswoman’s office for the golden letter!

3:06 PM I’m sitting in traffic and the light won’t turn green!!!

3:22 PM We arrive to a sloppy snow and slush filled parking lot in front of the government offices. I now have to put on my overshoes before I can drag my son (who has been attached to his GameBoy with a headset for over an hour – I later find out that he plugged in an FM radio module that he isn’t allowed to use…) across the lot and into the building.

3:30 PM There is no one at the front desk! I call the phone number and a man (who obviously has no knowledge of the clerical process in their office) comes to assist me. I explain very clearly what I’m looking for and suggest it may be sitting on the receptionist’s desk. He finds it and I’m outta there in a flash.

3:40 PM We arrive at the post office! There are four people in front of me on the Passport line and they close at 4:00! The first two are just there to pick up packages and they leave quickly. The one in front of me is having a fit because she accidentally dropped her employer’s credit card and bank deposit into one of the mail slots outside – and they can’t find someone to open it for her (the woman is on her lunch break). Unfortunately this puts the clerk in a very ugly mood!

3:50 PM The clerk calls us forward.

  • I put all the papers and passport photos (I had them taken when we had our family portrait done last month for the NBN application) on the counter and she asked if I had brought a signed statement as to why my son is wearing “head gear” in his photo. I responded in the negative and she gave me a blank sheet of paper instructing me to write out an explanation and to include his full name and date of birth.
  • Then she asked “where’s your flight itinerary“. I almost passed out from the anxiety! She did mention something about that when I spoke with her this morning, but in all the stress it slipped my mind! So she gave me a blank piece of paper and had me write a letter explaining about our upcoming trip and the reason we needed the renewal. While I was doing that I asked if she was including the letter from the Congresswoman because the letter already explained all that. She said that she doesn’t even open those letters, she throws them out! To appease me, she opened the letter and placed it in my package.
  • She had me write out a check to the U.S. Department of State for $112 and $30 to the U.S.P.S. for handling.
  • She sealed it all up in an envelope and placed an Expedite sticker on the front.
  • I thanked her profusely, wished her happy holidays and quickly exited the building.

4:15 PM We arrive back at the Congresswoman’s office and the woman I need to give this all to is “with someone”. So we sat in the waiting room and I tried to breathe normally again. My poor son was beside himself with boredom – I explained to him that this was just preparing us for what we will have to go through when we make Aliyah – lots of bureaucracy and hoops to jump through.

4:32 PM The woman we were waiting for came out and took the package from me. She explained that it will go out today with their Fed-Ex package to Washington D.C., a “runner” will take it to the appropriate office, and by Thursday we should be able to begin tracking it.

4:45 PM We’re in the car heading to Target to pick up some things I couldn’t get yesterday because of the blizzard. I’m exhausted and not sure I’m ready to deal with the bureaucratic challenges of Aliyah – I need time to recover!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, December 21, 2007 my son’s passport is delivered to our front door by FedEx! I quickly scanned and sent it to NBN and our Jewish Agency shaliach via e-mail, and prepared for a peaceful Shabbat.

On Sunday I sent a thank-you note to the Congresswoman’s office and received confirmation from NBN that they received the updated passport copy.

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