Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Come! Learn about your benefits!

Last week I received an email from the Olim office in Modiin about a seminar being held today for people 50 and older, about bituach leumi (Israel's version of social security) and the benefits we can expect to receive.  Excellent, I thought, I need to learn about that, I'm going. I'll learn a lot!

Wait, let me stop laughing.  OK, I'm better now.

Now, imagine the scene.

Over 70 people (20 of whom never RSVP'd) struggling to fit into a classroom.  People coming late, of course, and shlepping chairs noisily over stone floors into the room, greeting their friends, gossiping, you know, like in shul. 

Everyone finally sits down and the Olim office woman introduces the speaker.  And then she says, "And please be quiet becasue she does not have a loud voice.. Oh and don't interupt her with questions!  We'll have questions at the end." 

That's when I started giggling.  I haven't stopped yet.

Do you truly expect 70 senior citizens, many of whom have hearing problems, and all of whom are thoroughly confused about the Israeli bituach leumi system, to sit quietly and not interrupt for 2 hours?  In what imaginary, drug-induced world do you think that will happen?

So, the poor woman from bituach leumi starts talking.  Within .05 seconds someone shouts, "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU!"  She tries to speak louder.  Better. OK, now everyone is listening.

She starts out with....a description of the Bituach Leumi structure. And how it differs from what other countries have.  Hmmm.  The natives are getting restless.  Drool is accumulting beneath our desks.  Get to the good stuff, woman!  Tell us what we get!  How many millions of shekel are going to pour into our bank accounts once we turn 62?

She finally gets to real information.  This is how it goes, and I am not exaggerating:
  • BL woman:  So, if you are a woman and age 62 or a man and age 67 and you haven't worked here and if you pass the "means" test, or if you have worked here but less than 5 or 10 years, I think, then you may or may not be eligible.  It depends.
  • Audience member 1: But I came at age 64 and 3 months and I worked a little so what do I get?
  • Audience member 2:  But I have been here for 5 years and worked the whole time.  How about me?
  • BL woman:  It depends.
BL woman then launches into the minute detail of how the system works and all the ins and outs.  Drool drool drool.  By this time, people are either catatonic or angry or screaming out their questions.  BL woman looks like she could use a stiff drink. Then a couple of answers she gives are, well, not entirely correct so people in the audience correct her.  That feeling of "why, oh why am I wasting my time with this" keeps wafting over me.

Finally someone asks a basic question, "So what is the difference between national health insurance and our kupat cholim that we pay into every month?"

Silence - oh.  None of us realized that there were two health insurances that we have to pay.  Huh?

It went on and on.  I got a headache.

Then came the highlight of the morning.  The woman from the Olim department in Modiin made an off-hand comment like, "Well, don't forget to pay it - hahaha, it's kind of like the television tax!  You have to pay that too! Or else they'll hit you with a huge bill!  Hahahahaha!"

Stunned, utter silence. Then lo, the cry of the confused immigrant:


Heads turned to neighbors in sheer panic - the people who have indeed paid their TV tax (like me, ahem ahem) were sagely advising those who had no idea what the television tax is and never heard of it before.

Twenty minutes later, after oxygen was administered to several attendees, we got back to bituach leumi.

But my favorite "Olim rock" moment was the British guy in the back who asked, "Why didn't they tell us about national health insurance costs before our aliyah so we'd be prepared?  Is it a national secret?"

And our wonderful Olim advisor's response, "Yes.  It is a national secret.  Now you're here and we'll help you."

So by the time the two hours were over, we were all utterly confused, worried, and wringing our hands, sure that when we got home, waiting at our door would be either (or both):

1. The big, burly TV Tax guy who wants to see if we have a TV so the country can charge us
2. A huge package in our mailbox, with pages and pages summarizing all the money we now owe the Israeli government.

Oh, and don't let me forget to tell you the conversation about the cemetery.  If you live in Modiin, apparently you get a free burial plot in the Modiin cemetery.  If you want to be buried NEXT to your loved one, you have to pay.  No saving seats.  If you want to be buried in another city, good luck buddy, you're on your own.  

All in all, I will just tell you that by the time I left I was giggling like the village idiot.

At least they had coffee and cookies.

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