One of the many, many pleasures of living and working in Israel is a little something we call Overdraft, or simply minus, in Hebrew. This means that we are overdrawn on our checking account and we owe the bank money. The bank charges a ridiculously high interest rate on said amount, which in turn creates an infinite cycle of negativity and debt which one can never recover from. Fine. I’ve learned to live with it. The prohibitive cost of living is just one of those things you have to accept if you want to survive here, unless of course you are independently wealthy or work some high tech job. Even then, as the saying goes, if you want to become a millionaire in Israel bring two million with you.
While we’ve been in the red financially since our son was born, I was recently introduced to a new form of minus which, like the Tzabar, must be something entirely unique to the State of Israel. It is an overdraft of paid vacation days. Let me explain.
The Slaver, er, labor laws in the State of Israel state that if you are a full time worker and you have been at a company for less than five years you are entitled to twelve paid vacation days per years. Compare that to fourteen in the US, twenty five in Japan, twenty eight in the UK, thirty five in Germany and forty two (42!) in Italy. Mamma Mia!
But wait. Me dispiace. We’re not done the tally yet. Out of those 12 days the government provides you, two are deducted during Passover whether you like it or not. Another five are deducted during Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur-Sukkot, again, whether you like it or not. Another day is deducted during Shavuot (so we can, presumably, bring our harvest to the great temple as offerings) and finally, to celebrate our independence another paid vacation day is deducted. After those religious deductions you are left with THREE paid vacation days during the year.
I took a week off of work when my son was born in 2010. As a result I went into vacation overdraft and began the following year, 2011 in the hole to the tune of two vacation days. This meant that for the entire year I had one (1) paid vacation day. So M. and I rented a car and we drove up to Akko with D. (who can afford a babysitter anyway?) and had a great lunch at one of Israel’s finest restaurants (Uri Boori). We continued up to the grottoes of Rosh Hanikra and ended the day with a glass of wine in Zikhron Yaacov as the sun set.
In 2012 I had the great, great misfortune of having relatives visit from the States. I took three days off to climb Massada, float in the Dead Sea and show them the ruins of Caesarea. They were on their own for the rest of their two weeks here simply because M. and I had planned to go up North for a night during the summer.
In 2013 again I was struck with great tragedy when my brother, his wife and their kids came to visit us from their pastoral home in Leiden, the Netherlands. Alas, how could I turn down a few days with them at the Eco village south of the Arava, particularly since I only see them once every two years. M. didn’t join me, because she was planning on taking a few days off during August when the nurseries and kindergartens are closed and the parents (us) are forced to take off of work or beg borrow and steal grandmothers and little sisters to help us through that horrible month.
The shit hit the fan this year big time when I agreed to participate in the 19th Maccabiah games (not as an athlete mind you, unless there is a competitive porn watching category) in a professional capacity as a video director/producer. I asked for two weeks (10 whole working days!) and was offered a great vacation overdraft deal; I would be in the paid vacation minus for the foreseeable future. I could choose the other option, that is, to take a non-paid vacation but that would put me even further in the bank minus. It was a sub-zero juggling act and no matter how I sliced it, I was going to be in someone’s debt, be it the bank, my employer or my family. After all they were the big losers from the lack of vacationing.
When I was growing up some of my fondest memories came from family vacations. Like our family trip to Disneyland in my dad’s old station wagon. We rocked out to Phil Collins, Air Supply, Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees (there was no accounting for taste in music) all the way from Haddonfield, NJ. I came back with stuffed animals and memories for a lifetime. Or the time we all went to Atlantic City (oh, the 80’s) and I got to watch my dad make fifty bucks at the five dollar blackjack table. He fleeced those old ladies and we all had a great buffet lunch resplendent with shrimp cocktail. We spent the night at a hotel and walked the boardwalk in the morning and ate cotton candy. My son, D., will most likely miss out on those adventures and with him an entire generation. It’s a sad state of affairs when all of us are nothing more than indentured servants at best and slaves at worst.
I agreed to go into vacation minus and signed all the requisite documents. My employer, after all, was being very generous. They could have denied me the vacation days. Or simply not even give me the option of going into paid vacation debt. But they did and I thank them for that. After all, it’s the State of Israel that makes the laws.
Thankfully, M. and I couldn’t afford to take a real vacation even if we wanted to. So, by my calculations, I won’t have a paid vacation day until 2017, which is just fine. By then hopefully our son will be old enough to get a job on some Chinese assembly line making Nike sneakers or Apple computer components and help us get out of the minus.