It's been a while since I had to make the journey to Misrad Hapnim (the Interior Ministry), that most maligned (generally deservedly so) of Israeli ministries. My memories of its faded halls and rude clerks are doubtless romantic notions of times past but I couldn't help compare with an equivalent office which I visited on Friday morning.
In that I am going to be a Shaliach in the US, I need to arrange an appropriate visa. Friday morning therefore, found me queueing at the US Consulate in East Jerusalem (a couple of metres away from Route 1). To have got that far, I had registered on line (NIS 58), paid a SEVIS fee for a J1 visa ($100) and paid a further fee at the Post Office (NIS 460) - around a thousand sheks in total (my employers will return the money) - the Land of the Free is pretty expensive so it seems! I'd also registered to be there at a certain time and filled out all the forms online.
I was certainly more prepared than some of the others who, it seems, had not read the instructions properly and had to hurry off to print out sheets or pay at the Post Office on the instruction of 1 or other of the English, Hebrew and Arabic speaking staff who went up and down the line making sure that we had everything ready by the time we reached the window.
Having deposited my documents I was ushered inside to a security check where I handed in my tyre pump and bike lamps to a bemused guard as well as my mobile phone. I was then ushered through to a further security check and thence to a waiting room which hadn't changed too much since the 1940s. It was quiet, people waiting for their names to be called over the antiquated speaker system, Jews and Arabs studiously ignoring one another in the cramped space.
After an hour or so, my name was called, I had a 30 second chat with the clerk and was sent on my way - my passport should be ready in a week or so.
Despite the difference in the physical surroundings, the office felt totally different to Misrad Hapnim. The staff were more helpful and had appropriate language skills, no cell phones going off and hence a quieter atmosphere, a physical separation between the waiting area and the processing desks, the requirement of having all the documents ready. All things which I think many of our government offices could learn from in making the experience simpler for the people that they serve and hence themselves.
Waiting in Government offices is not a uniquely Israeli phenomenon - far from it. It is however often the first time that many Olim have to deal with bureaucratic processes and therefore seems all the more daunting. It may be better or worse in other places - the US Consulate I'd give a better grade than Pnim in Jerusalem but still not much fun - grin and bear it is the best advice that I can give.