In the early days of the State of Israel, mail sent from an army camp needed no stamp. Soldiers who had been torn from their livelihoods and families for a few weeks of milium (reserve duty), were supposed to be able to send postcards to their loved ones without thinking about the cost. The Jewish brain quickly realized the potential of this benefit. So six weeks before a wedding, a second cousin of the bride would call the lucky couple with the news that he was off to milium, and could take the 300 or so invitations. Before Jewish New Year cards swamped the internet, they were mailed, usually with a military postmark. Starting a new business? Need to advertise? Yossi just got a call up, he’ll take the flyers. Even an ultra-religious Jew who deplored anyone in uniform suddenly developed a warm friendship for his Zionist branch of the family a short time before his son’s Barmitzva.
There were some rumors that soldiers had been called to milium just to deal with the onslaught of mail at certain seasons.
But one day, electronic mail was born, and letters no longer needed to be written, folded into envelopes, submitted and delivered. As a result, the volume of mail decreased drastically, so the Israeli Post Office (or Doar Yisrael – henceforth DY) found itself DYing. Thus postal staff was laid off which made the time a letter took to reach its destination longer hence DY was even more circumvented so more staff was dismissed … well, you get the picture.
The brains behind the scenes decided to offer many new services to the public to compensate for lack of income, especially in banking and foreign currency exchange. So lines grew longer especially at the beginning of the month when bills had to be paid, the middle of the month when VAT was due and the end of the month when threats for non-payment of bills and VAT could be implemented. Added to that was the new Israeli passion for ordering cheap oriental goods online (and their inevitable return).
Let’s say Donna wants to buy a stamp. (Show a stamp to an 8-year-old and ask him what it is. I’d love to hear the responses you get. Please send them to me, preferably not by snail mail). Donna wants a stamp because she is sending wedding invitations and her old uncle in Ashkelon does not have email. She walks into the branch and is confronted by a machine demanding that she take a number. Donna has to choose one of three services: 1, collecting a package, 2, banking, and 3, other. She guesses she is ‘other.’ Would she like to receive an SMS just before her turn comes so that she need not wait in the branch? Donna looks suspiciously at the 40 or so people sitting in the plastic red chairs immersed in their phones. If they don’t need to wait inside, why are they all there? But she selects the ‘let me know in time’ option. The machine offers Donna number 632, and 417 has just been called. A quick calculation of 215 people at 3 minutes each gives her time to do all her Pesach shopping, or perhaps go visit her old uncle in Ashkelon.
Donna chooses to wander around the shops. Suddenly a pair of shoes catches her eye, the most perfect comfortable pumps that match her dress impeccably. And there is a 50% discount. Donna rushes into the store, and asks the attendant to bring her a pair. Yes, they do have Donna’s size. She takes off her sneakers to try them on, and ping! An SMS shows on her cell-screen informing her that she has three minutes to get back to the DY or forfeit her turn. Donna looks down and notices another customer trying on her discarded sneakers. She panics, grabs the sneakers off the innocent customer’s feet, runs down the street wearing only socks and dashes into the post office to hear “Number 633 to counter 3”. “Noooooooooo!” screams Donna as she swoops on to counter 3, waving her number like a winning lottery ticket, “I was here all the time”. Number 633 scowls at her but grudgingly concedes (Israelis have come a long way!).
Donna purchases her stamp. “What else do you need?” asks the clerk.
“Nothing thanks”, responds Donna. “How much is it?”
The clerk has to look it up in her chart. She has not sold a stamp for some time, and the price is not stated on the stamp itself. “Two shekels, fifty,” she discovers.
Donna carefully takes out a note from her wallet. Since the old green 20 shekel note has been replaced with a red one, the purple 50 shekel is now green, the blue 100 shekel is now orange and the old orange 200 shekel note is blue, Donna tends to be extremely careful about handing over money. But the stamp is now hers. To be licked and stuck and sent on its way.
“Where do I mail the letter?” she asks the clerk, who is now dealing with client 633. The clerk has to look this up too, then gives Donna detailed instructions on how to get to the nearest mail box, just a five-minute sprint from the branch. Donna puts on her sneakers and triumphantly walks down the street. She locates the box immediately outside the shoe store, where her pumps are patiently awaiting.
To be truthful, waiting in the post office is not as traumatic as it used to be. People are more patient, the clerks almost polite and we have phones to keep us entertained. Most packages actually arrive although if you are buying Purim costumes it’s best to place your order near the New Year. You can even track your package as it crawls painfully to its destination. Kudos to the DY for reinventing itself in an era in which we write less and text more. It’s now an independent company earning a small yet distinct profit. And frankly, if it took the Jewish people 2,000 years to wander around the world schlepping our baggage until we finally reached our destination, how is the Doar Yisrael supposed to function any differently?