Is Israeli efficiency more deadly than Covid-19?

I should have been on guard when my psychiatrist questioned whether or not I should be in quarantine. Unfortunately, because I had just told him that my daughter had tested positive not two hours before, I thought he was referring to possible contact with her, instead of me needing isolation for some other unrelated reason.

13 years in Israel. Still making rookie mistakes.

After confirming that I’m not psychotic, I headed to the nearby Maccabi branch to deal with changing my name there officially. I’m always surprised by where you find the efficiency in Israel. Want to change your name legally? 20 minutes at Misrad Hapnim, and you walk out with a new ID card and a passport receipt. Want to change your name at the health insurance company — it’s a two-hour wait.

As I finally got up to the counter, the clerk was accommodating and cheerfully threw away my old Maccabi card. As she went to print the new one, her eyes started to squint at her computer screen.

“You are supposed to be in isolation!!” she nearly screamed at me.

The entire room went silent. People began to back away from me.

I began to explain. My daughter had tested positive, but she was in isolation at her boarding school, so I hadn’t been exposed.

No sale. The clerk eyed me suspiciously and said I should have gotten an SMS and then went to find a supervisor who spoke more authoritative English. Meanwhile, I scrolled through my messages and confirmed that the plague tech fairy had not visited me.

When the supervisor returned, she said that the computer showed I had been exposed on September 10th, and that I should be isolated. All of the information was double-checked against phone records, so there were no mistakes. And if there was a mistake (although her expression said that clearly, I was crawling with disease), I needed to take it up with the Ministry of Health.

For once, I could actually remember where I had been on a specific day, so I knew that the chances of me being infected between the end of a mediocre date and driving to meet my husband were pretty slim. But I decided to treat the situation seriously, which meant calling my husband to have him take care of it.

I told him what happened, and first, he suggested we call Maccabi. But I know bureaucracy, and figured they wouldn’t make any changes without instructions in triplicate from the Ministry of Health. Considering I had only been near two human beings on the day in question, we decided it would be easier to make absolutely sure that neither of those people were listed as infected.

Did you know that there’s an automatic number to call to see if you’ve been sent an isolation warning? Again, very efficient. My husband was immediately told that he had not been sent a notification. On the other hand, I received the cryptic response that “This service was unable to verify your status.”

Next, my husband called the number given for appeals. After an hour of continual disconnections (I guess all of the government’s supply of efficiency had been used up by this point), he got through to a drone who said that he’d have to take up his complaint with the Health Department branch who had filed the isolation report… in Akko.

Now Akko is a lovely city. But I’ve only been there twice. And none of those times was in the last year. My husband asked where my date was from on the odd chance that it was related, but since moving to Tel Aviv, I refuse to date anyone new who doesn’t live within the Tel Aviv Dan bus pass range, so I knew that wasn’t the case.

While my spouse handled the call to Akko, I made possibly the most embarrassing call of my life, in which I relayed to my date that I may have caught a virus, and if I did, it would have been from him. So, was there anything he needed to tell me?

In retrospect, I should probably have specified COVID-19 from the beginning. But thankfully, he was clean.

My husband called me back and told me that they’d found the problem. There is a person in Akko who is much less concerned with public safety than I am, but who happens to have an ID number one digit off from mine. A typo had landed me in this nightmare. Dammit Israel, could you please spread your efficiency around more efficiently?!

The Health Department had assured us that my record had been wiped clean, so I went about my regular routine, considering it to be another funny story. At least, until this morning. I had scored a coveted appointment with a recommended gynecologist who usually has a three-month waiting period… no mean feat. And as I was making sure that every bit of me was feeling so fresh and clean (so fresh and so clean), the doctor’s secretary called to tell me the appointment had been canceled, since I was supposed to be in isolation and they didn’t have the proper equipment to treat me.

Once again, I was foiled by an odd combination of efficiency and the lack thereof. So, I sit and wait once again for my husband to deal with the bureaucracy. And I am left to wonder if it’s possible to die from too much efficiency.

About the Author
Malynnda Littky made aliyah to Israel with her family in 2007 from Oak Park, Michigan. Her recent stay in Paris, enjoying both medical tourism and her new status as the trophy wife of a research economist, has renewed her love for Israel, despite arriving just in time to enjoy several weeks of lockdown.
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