2021 was an inopportune time for many things: being a human, sneezing on strangers, or trying to predict when tourists will be allowed to enter the country. But when it comes to renewing a passport, 2021 is my jam. I haven’t been out of Israel since 2019, and given the government’s propensity for changing quarantine regulations in less time than it takes to whip up some shakshuka, I have no plans to travel anywhere for quite some time. So when I noticed that my Israeli passport was soon to expire, I figured it was the perfect time to renew.
I visited the Jerusalem branch of the Population and Immigration Authority at my predetermined time and was quickly called to cubicle #3. I told Clerk #3 that I was there to get a new passport, and I handed her my identity card and proof of payment.
“No problem”, she said, “I will issue you a biometric passport”.
I was in a government office and things were going smoothly. I smugly and oh so prematurely began to congratulate myself on how far I’ve come. I remembered those early days of aliyah when I started each appointment by asking if we could possibly conduct this meeting in English, ideally from the fetal position in the crawlspace under the desk. But look at me now! I’d been sitting in front of this woman for nearly 30 seconds and she hadn’t yet pegged me as incompetent.
My confidence was bolstered by the fact that I don’t fully know what the word biometric means. In my head I confuse it with the word ‘bionic’, and I was considering the possibility that during this visit both my new passport and I would be implanted with some sort of machinery that would give us superpowers. I know that many people these days are averse to having technology implanted on their person, but given that I spend most of my time wondering what is going on and how I seem to have missed out on key pieces of information that everyone else has accessed, this bionic chip was likely going to be an upgrade.
“Let me just ask you some questions to confirm your identity,” Clerk #3 said. Ask away, lady! I am an expert on myself.
“?מה השם של חמיך”
“What is my father-in-law’s name?” I repeated back to her, confused by the odd question.
“Yes, how do you call your father-in-law?” she switched to English, having now identified me as incompetent.
Obviously, I know this answer. His name is Joe. Formally he’s Joseph, but his Hebrew name is Chaim Yosef, and I have no idea what the Israeli government calls him, or how I might have answered this question five years ago when I got my first passport.
“Um, Joe. Joseph.” I said. She raised an eyebrow.
“Chaim Yosef?” I asked hopefully. “Chaim Yosef ben Tzvi?” I added, on the off chance that Clerk #3 moonlighted as a gabbai and wanted to call my father-in-law up to the Torah.
One of my answers seemed to have pacified her, and we moved on. I breezed through the next portion of the interrogation: where were you born, when did you move to Israel, and what’s your current address.
And then it was time to get my picture taken.
Used to the regulations of the Department of Motor Vehicles in the great states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, I asked Clerk #3 if I should take off my hat. I should say that Clerk #3’s attire did not demonstrate any religious leanings. She wore jeans and a sweater, and her long hair was not covered. But my question left her scandalized.
“You are wearing a hat for religious reasons, right?’ she asked.
“Yes,” I said, (and also because I look super cute in this winter hat with a puffball on the end).
“And you are willing to just take it off for the picture?”
“Well, um, no? But maybe? I mean, obviously not. Do I look like a person of such weak faith? And could you move your feet a bit, because I would like to crawl under your desk now.”
“Of course you should leave your hat on, but raise it up a bit so I can see your whole forehead and all your loose morals.”
Picture taken, it was time to be fingerprinted. I knew from past experience that this would not be easy. Either due to genetics or a lifetime of washing dishes, my fingerprints are camera shy. I told this to Clerk #3, and now it was her turn to be smug and prematurely confident.
“Don’t worry,” she said, implying that I was not the first Jezebel to walk into cubicle 3 and try to impress her with my unprintable fingers.
She cleaned her scanner and I sanitized my right index finger. It didn’t take.
“Try your middle finger.” No good.
“Right thumb.” Nothing.
“Try standing up.”
“Lower your wrist”
“Push down harder”
“Not so hard!”
“Try your left thumb.”
“Move over, make room for me under the desk”.
We went on like this for so long that I started to flesh out the details of a career change to the burgeoning field of breaking and entering. Sure, it involves some risk, but it’s profitable, I look chic in black, and I will never be caught. With my newly minted passport and lack of fingerprints, I could embark on an epic international crime spree of the most chic variety. But by definition, international crime is the kind of work that can’t be done from home, and in this day and age, I think we all agree that we need our work environments to be flexible. Oh, the dreams we sacrifice on the altar of work-life balance.
Finally, one of my prints was accepted. Clerk #3 told me that my documents would be ready in two weeks. And then she dismissed me. So much for bionics, it appeared that nothing was going to be implanted today. But in two weeks’ time, I will get a text from the post office telling me to come pick up my passport. Which is great, because I’ve gotten to know the clerk at my local branch. She’s nice and patient, and she keeps the space below her desk really clean.