Last week I had the exciting opportunity to go to a mall in Jerusalem. As I repeat often in my lectures, I hate shopping, but necessity called. I entered the newly renovated mall and promptly fainted, almost. It was wild! The lights, the colors, the mass of stores. I couldn’t believe I was still in Israel; I was sure I had landed back in the U.S., given the amount of shopping choices available.  I was looking for a specific store, so I did what any self-respecting English speaker in my situation would do, I looked for a map. I looked by the entrance, by the elevators, by the bathrooms, no map. So, of course, I asked one of the salesgirls behind an open counter. She gave me a blank look.  I half expected her to ask me what a map was.  I asked another salesgirl, sitting behind the desk selling discount cards for the mall! “Ask the security guards. They might know.” Right. Fifteen minutes later, wandering like a lost soul, and getting thoses one shoulder shrugs, several ‘beats me’, and more blank looks, I finally found the store, by random luck and looking up in desperation.

After I got over my annoyance, it struck me as to how funny this situation actually was, and how very typical. It reminded me of when my son had first learned to play piano. He was auditioning for a conservatory teacher after have learned locally for a couple of years.  After he played, the teacher said to me, “your son obviously has a musical ear and is quite talented but he’s missing the basics. It’s like building a beautiful castle in the clouds. Now we need to build the foundation.”  It’s the same for Israel.

How can you invest millions of shekels in expanding your mall, including lots of expensive stores and products, and not hang a map?!

It’s like when you go to the parking lot and the automated system snaps a picture of your license plate so you can pay and leave automatically, but you have to ask the group waiting in line at the pharmacy, “who’s last?” because the automatic ticket machine is broken, again.  That’s the fabulous irony of this country that often makes it so difficult to navigate medically, because how do you expect the completely unexpected?

To assist you a bit, I’ve put together my little “Castle in the Clouds” recommendations with tricks of the trade, when you encounter an unexpected response when interacting with the medical system.

  1. Look online first to see if there is an explanation of the procedure. Some of the kupot and imaging places (like Assuta and Machon Mor) have quite detailed explanations of the process and actually offer helpful information that the secretary/technician will forget/not know to tell you.
  2. Try not to yell, but do speak firmly and assertively when told no. As my friend from Canada likes to say, she’s so polite that she says ‘excuse me’ even if she bumps into a lamp post.  It’s extremely ingrained in English speakers to be courteous and self-effacing.   Obviously, you shouldn’t yell or throw things, but you do need to be firm and not back down just because the secretary said she has no record of your forms. For example, when my father went to get his hearing aids adjusted, they said ‘oh no, your appointment is for tomorrow’ even though they had clearly said Wednesday on the phone.  Instead of acquiescing, he said, “no, I’m here now, you told me the wrong day, please work me in.”  And they did.
  3. Don’t accept bad or absent service. My father was frustrated with that same hearing center because, on another visit, they had adjusted his hearing aids quickly, hadn’t done adequate testing to see if they were working properly, and had hurried him out the door. I said, “Dad, you were a college professor. You know your stuff.  Tell them that they need to redo the adjustment.” I have realized, after being an immigrant for over two decades, that sometimes we lose our self confidence when challenged in a foreign language within a system that baffles us.  You may not understand all the nuances, or even what the clerk is saying, but if you feel that you are not getting the service you need, stay put until you do.
  4. If you feel a mistake has been made, advocate for yourself. About six months ago, a client I’ll call Isaac contacted me to tell me that he’d finally received his bituach leumi disability and sherutim meyuchadim (special mobility service payments), which we had worked on getting for several months, but that the final notice of total percentage disability just didn’t make sense.  You see, there are two aspects of disability payments, medical disability and degree of incapacity.  Even though his incapacity was at 100%, he only had 85% medical disability, which prevented him from a tax discount through the Israeli Income Tax office.  There was obviously a calculation error; true enough, after three letters, and two months going back and forth with bituach leumi, Isaac received a letter from the representative stating, “You are right.  We made a mistake.”  Miracles do happen.  Mistakes are rectified. Don’t give up.
  5. Repeat the information received. For example, “So, you are telling me that I needed to bring you the form that the doctor needed to fill out, even though no one told me that I needed that form?”  Say it in English if you’re not clear or have them write it down in Hebrew if you don’t understand so you can take it to someone who does understand.
  6. Laugh. Release the tension; make a joke. After all, it is funny that in a huge mall, there is not a map to be found, or, that a robot can park your car, but no one knows who’s last in line. Enjoy the cultural moment, be glad you live in this funny country, and move on.

Let’s enjoy our little castle in the clouds.