Student driver: the ל on the roof stands for “learning”
New olim are allowed to convert their foreign driver’s license to an Israeli license for three years. I couldn’t put it off any longer.
Step 1: Get Green Form and have eye exam. I went to one of the two optometrists in Jerusalem who are authorized to provide the Green form. The clerk took my ID card, told me to sit down and look at the camera. Two minutes later, he handed me my Green Form, complete with my photo at the top, and sent me next door for the eye exam.
I gave my form to the woman behind the counter. She told me to look in a machine. “How many squares do you see?” she asked, in Hebrew.
There were two cubes depicted—I hoped she was asking about the cubes themselves, and not the six sides I could see. Apparently “two” was the correct answer.
The picture changed to two cars on a long road. “On what side is the light blinking?”
I didn’t see a blinking light. “I only see two cars,” I replied.
“No, the light outside the machine,” she instructed me.
I pulled my head out of the machine, and she directed me to put my head back in.
The blinking light was to the right of the picture. I indicated with my right hand as I said “yemin.”
She switched the visual to lines of numbers. “Read the second line,” she told me.
I read the numbers, hoping she was more interested in the numbers, than if I was consistent with gender. Luckily for me, she wasn’t a grammar fanatic; I passed the test. I paid my 50 NIS and she gave me my Green Form.
Step 2: Declaration of Health. I answered the questions about my health on the Green Form, with the assistance of my dictionary. I now know the words for stroke, diabetes, and mental illness.
Step 3: Get doctor’s signature verifying you are physically capable of driving a car safely. I dropped the form off at the clinic, and picked it up two days later.
Step 4: Take Green Form, Oleh Certificate that documents the date of arrival in Israel, and foreign driver’s license to District License Office. Although there are more than ten License Offices in the country, only five of them handle license conversions. Luckily, one of them is in Jerusalem.
License office over there
The office was easy to find. As I walked down Tnufa street, I saw a large sign in the shape of an arrow pointing toward a building. “License Office” it said in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, in letters large enough to be read by a driver in a hurry.
After going through security, I was confronted by a sign giving too many choices of where to go. I quickly gave up reading it all and went to the right for “N’higa Kol” (all driving). When my turn came, I pushed my documents through the opening in the glass partition. The clerk asked for my Oleh Certificate. I pointed and said, “It’s there.” Maybe I confused her by giving it to her with the Green Form instead of waiting to be asked for it?
When she got down to the medical information, she asked what the medications were for. “Lakhatz dam,” I said, remembering the words for blood pressure, and then paused. I had no idea what the word for cholesterol was. After a moment I decided to just go with the word I knew. “V’cholesterol.” She stamped my green form in three places. Then she looked at my US license. “Where is this from?” she asked.
“Pennsylvania” is the largest word on the card.
“Pennsylvania,” I said. “The United States.”
She wrote it on the form and handed everything back to me.
I thanked her and left.
Step 5: Take driving lesson(s). In order to take the driving test, you have to first get a driving instructor’s approval. Israel did not always require a driving test to convert a foreign license. However, in the early 1990s they discovered that many new olim from the Soviet Union had bought forged licenses, and did not actually know how to drive. Since passing a law that applied only to immigrants from one country would have been discriminatory, all olim now need to take at least one driving lesson and the driving test.
I got a teacher’s name from a friend. Although Dudu speaks fluent English, we spoke Hebrew most of the time. He is very calm and matter-of-fact. I guess you have to have nerves of steel to ride around all day in a car being driven by people who don’t know how to drive. It’s not a job I could handle; I remember how tense I was riding with Sara when she was just learning to drive.
I drove for about 45 minutes. Up and down hills, through complicated intersections, on residential streets and the Begin Highway. He never touched his controls or grabbed the steering wheel to prevent an accident. And I felt comfortable behind the wheel.
At the end of the lesson, he handed me a small voucher for the test.
Step 6: Go to the Post Office and pay for the test. Be sure to get the receipt. That was the easiest part of the whole process.
Step 7: Driving test. As I got into Dudu’s car for my second lesson, he said to me, “I’ve made an appointment for you to take the test on Tuesday afternoon. You’ll have a lesson first, and then the test. Be sure to bring your teudat zehut (ID certificate).”
I spent all Tuesday morning trying not to be nervous. I calmed down by reminding myself that if I did not pass the test, I could take it again.
The examiner said a ritualistic “Good luck” and told me to turn right as we exited the parking lot. I turned right almost immediately.
“What are you doing?” He sounded angry. “This is a gas station!”
It had looked like a street next to a gas station to me. I made a U-turn and exited onto the main street. The rest of the test did not go any better. When Dudu told me the next day that I had failed, I was not surprised.
Most people fail the first time they take the test–failing your first driver’s test seems to be a standard Israeli experience.
I had a few more lessons. Dudu told me to move closer to the center of the road– I had driven too close to the right side of the street on my test. I also drove too fast. “This is a small country,” he told me more than once. “You can get everywhere in a few hours. There’s no need to drive fast.”
Driving fast is going 40 kilometers per hour, about 25 mph, on a four-lane street.
He gave me another voucher to pay at the post office, but could not get an appointment for the test soon because of a labor problem.
The government wants to privatize the licensing bureau. The examiners want their jobs guaranteed, which the government will not do. So three times in the last two months, the examiners have gone on one-day strikes. All the tests that were scheduled for those days had to be rescheduled before new tests could be scheduled.
Friday, Dudu called. He had an appointment for a test early Sunday morning. If I could be ready by 6 AM, I could have that slot.
I was ready. Too nervous to eat breakfast, but otherwise ready.
This test went better than the first one. When I stopped at a yield sign, and the examiner said one word, “Why?”
“To be careful too much?” I replied. No, it was not correctly phrased, even according to the rules of Hebrew grammar. But I must have demonstrated a better grasp of the basics of driving than I did of the basics of language, because this time I passed.
…and here’s my Israeli driver’s license (until the plastic card arrives in the mail)
I returned to the licensing office to pick up my temporary license. As she handed it to me, the clerk told me to go to the post office to pay the fee, or, if I had I credit card, I could pay using the machine in the lobby. Either way, my plastic card would arrive in the mail in about five weeks.
I had a credit card, so I paid in the lobby. And I’m now one step closer to becoming a competent adult again.