London. My friend gives me the number for Yossi, who has a removal business. I call him, in Jerusalem. Israelis, in case you don’t know, aren’t great at customer relations. Even Moran, my immigration liaison, told me that this will be one of the hardest things to get used to in my new home. But Yossi is so warm and helpful I want to hug him. My plan is to store my stuff in Tel Aviv so that it’s all there for when I find a flat. Yossi can help me with everything, including finding a home and we agree a price. He is a dreamboat. How can it go wrong?
Tel Aviv. The flight was delayed for hours and arrives late at night. After being processed by immigration, being given my ID card and an envelope of money, around 1000 nis, I think, a SIM card, and stern instructions to open a bank account first thing in the morning, I take a taxi to my hotel.
I have a headache and want a drink and the driver sings along to the radio at the top of his voice. I ask him to stop. I like singing! he says, brightly. He turns the music up. I want to kill him.
The bar next to the hotel is closed when I arrive, and hotels in Israel, this one, anyway, don’t have mini bars in their rooms. This has been a momentous day. I’ve left everything I know for a new life in Israel and I am full of emotions that I can’t name. I fall into a fitful sleep.
I’m woken the next morning by my phone. It is Yossi, who wants to pick me up, take me to sign papers, then show me apartments. He has already played a game of tennis. It is seven am.
An hour later we’re driving through Tel Aviv, north, towards Ra’anana, where Motti, who arranged the shipping, is waiting. We pass block after block of tall, white apartment buildings that fill the spaces between places.
Yossi looks good for seventy, if that’s what he is, slim and athletic. He chatters about this and that in the car, how he wants to help me, he’s here for me, whatever I need. He parks under a shopping mall, and we walk through it to a café where Motti is waiting, impatiently. He is slim, dark, fortyish, handsome, I think. He moved here from Manchester twenty years ago. They talk in Hebrew, which, of course, I don’t understand. He passes contracts to me, also in Hebrew. I pause for a second but sign. The business is done quickly.
You might wonder why I didn’t ask them to speak in English. All I can say is that for weeks before and after my flight my mind was gloop. I was at least part-zombie, going from one process to the next, in a sort of daze. It was all too huge to think about. I was leaving a place I love for another place I loved, but with only uncertainty to follow. Now, now, almost a year later, I would have asked them to speak English, but then, in that awful café in that awful shopping mall, I couldn’t find the words.
Motti tells me my stuff is on the Haifa dockside, I need to pay him quickly so he can collect it, and Yossi will store it until I find an apartment. That’s no problem, I say, but I’m wrong about this.
We drive back to Tel Aviv and look at three apartments. One is ok, but too expensive. None have ovens or fridges or washing machines, and certainly not dishwashers. I later learn that this is perfectly normal for Israel, but I didn’t know it then. Yossi wants me to think he’s gone to a lot of trouble, but I can see he’s just copied the addresses from a Facebook page.
We stop for lunch and I offer to pay. He hasn’t mentioned money until now, but suddenly, all business, he asks for £8,750. You said £5,000 on the phone, I remind him. There have been expenses, he says, vaguely. I grind my teeth, worried by the extra cost. OK, I say, but it mustn’t go any higher. I would make a terrible businessman and a worse poker player. No, no higher, he agrees, with a smirk, not much more than £10,000.
I hate the smirk, and it stays with me. It makes me feel like the biggest patsy in the world, and maybe I am.
I’m too stunned to argue, and get out my chequebook. He doesn’t want a cheque. I offer my cards, but he doesn’t want those, either. He wants a transfer. I had imagined I could use my cards in Israel, and, indeed, I can, but not with Yossi and Motti. I don’t have the machine, a card reader, that will let me transfer such a large sum. This is, really, the worst error I made in my move, it would have made many things easier. So he takes my cheques, one for him, one for Motti, and he drives me back to the hotel in silence. We’re ok? he asks before I get out. I say we are, but we’re not.
I go to make the first of several initially unsuccessful attempts to open a bank account. Opaque, unhelpful, exhausting, Israeli banks deserve their own place on the UN list of sites of unique interest.
An hour later the phone in my room rings, Yossi doesn’t want the cheques after all. I didn’t know this at the time, but it takes weeks for Israeli banks to process foreign cheques, and they take a hefty commission. I say I’ll sort it out, but I don’t know how that will happen. I’m annoyed with banks, with myself and with Yossi. Not least I’m annoyed about the doubling of costs.
The next morning I cancel the cheques and get a lawyer involved, who manages, with one call, to pin the two men down to around £8,000, which, at least, is better than £10,000.
A few weeks and many phone calls later I meet Yossi and Motti at the Nahat on Diezengoff Square to try to sort out payment. Dan, the owner of the café, and my friend, knows all about the situation. He has listened to me patiently and kindly, and handed me his phone when mine wasn’t working. He offers to be standing by with a baseball bat in case I need any help.
I feel like I have right on my side. After all, I have paid them once. Had they taken my cheques, the money would have passed into their accounts by now. I think I may have to fly back to London, for a day, just to sort this out, but they have a plan. I will write another cheque, which Motti will courier to Yossi’s bank account in London. I agree and write another cheque. I have only one left, which I will need for rent, but the same problem arises then, too. Mostly, no one wants to pay the bank charge.
Two days later Motti calls. He sounds embarrassed, maybe he should be, by his news. The cheque arrived in London, but, because Yossi uses his account so rarely, the bank has suspended it. Would you laugh or cry? I mostly laugh, through my tears.
I call my bank again, hoping to find a solution. They suggest faxes.
The post office, of course, doesn’t have a working fax machine. I don’t blame them, it is all but obsolete technology. I haven’t sent a fax for over ten years. I have an idea and go to the hotel I stayed in when I arrived. Sweetly, kindly, they send the faxes. Later the bank calls to check it was actually from me and money passes into Yossi’s and Motti’s accounts. It has taken an anxious month to get here.
Today’s word: kev – pain – כאב