After living in Israel for a year, driving here on a US driver’s license and becoming citizens, we knew that we did not have a choice any longer but to obtain an Israeli driving license. Because our first year of citizenship in Israel was going to end in September, we started the process in April, allowing five months to complete the process of getting our Israeli driver’s license, which we thought was plenty of time.
First, I visited the Ministry of Transport and Road Safety to get a form showing my ID. I decided to break the ice on my own before having my wife go through the hurdles. After unsuccessfully trying to locate the Transport Office for an hour, I was so frustrated that I parked the car in the parking lot of a large mall and hired a taxi to make sure that I would get to the office.
When I entered the large waiting room crowded with people and took a number and waited for my turn, I realized that it would be a contest as to whether my number would be called before they closed at noon. I anxiously watched the clock, hoping I would be lucky, and thankfully my number was called in time. After showing my passport and explaining what I needed, I was told that I did not need to be there because I already had an Israel ID number. Even though all of that was a waste of my time, I was able to see an optician for the required eye test before leaving town. I also had them stamp a form from the US that I needed for renewing my US license. It would be a problem if my US license expired before I completed the process of getting my Israeli license, so I started the process of renewing my US license, which is also complicated when not living in the United States.
My wife and I drove back to Beersheba that same afternoon for my wife’s eye test in order to get her started. Since her US license would not soon expire, she had plenty of time for getting her Israel license. I mailed my papers to Oregon and knew it would take up to four weeks to receive my renewed US license.
After our family doctor filled out a health form that stated we were healthy enough to drive, we filled out another form on which we mistakenly noted that we both take Thyroxin for our thyroid. When we returned to the Ministry of Transport in Beersheba, the clerk did not understand what Thyroxin was and so what should have been simple turned out to be complicated. Usually applicants receive a form with the approval for taking the required driving lessons and driving test, but because of Thyroxin she sent our forms to a government doctor in Tel Aviv for review and to assure them that Thyroxin would not cause any problem with our driving. When we heard that it would take two weeks, I knew I might have trouble getting my license before my US license expired. I phoned Oregon to see if my US license renewal was okay, only to be told that my papers were being returned to me by mail because I had forgotten to include a photocopy of my US expired license. So I was looking at another four weeks to get my US license renewed. It did not appear that I would have my renewed Oregon license in time.
After waiting more than four weeks to hear back from the Israeli government doctor, a Hebrew speaking friend offered to go with me to the Beersheba office. He did the talking for me, but there was very little conversation before the clerk got up and went to another office and soon returned with the long awaited forms from the Israeli government doctor. There were shouts of joy. It had been nearly two months and I could hardly believe it.
Now at last we could arrange with a driving teacher to give us one or two driving lessons required by the government before a new citizen from the US is allowed to take a driving test and get a driver’s license. Fortunately no written exam is required. For Israelis, eighteen driving lessons are required so we were not complaining about one or two lessons.
The same day I received the forms, I contacted a driving instructor who met with us and arranged to give us a lesson. However, he told us that he could only give my wife a lesson and not me because my US license had expired. That was disappointing and so the next day I drove back to the Beersheba Transportation Office to cry on their shoulder about my predicament. Thankfully they gave me another month and a half. When I showed this to our driving instructor he agreed to give me a driving lesson as well. After our lessons he felt that we both had done so well that he scheduled driving tests for us. I am not sure why, but it takes some time to schedule a driving test. He managed to schedule the test for us four weeks later. I would just make it before my grace period for my US license expired.
I was concerned about my wife not passing, but over-confident about my driving. Guesswhat? My wife passed her driving test, I failed my test because of not seeing a stop sign. It was a happy day for her, but not for me.
I was in a predicament because my US license extension would expire in a few days before there was time to reschedule my test. Thankfully, two days later I received my renewed Oregon driver’s license in the mail and it was valid until 2023. But I still needed the Ministry of Transport in Beersheba to extend the time allowed for me because my first year as a new citizen had ended. Thank G-d I went to just the right personnel and with the help of an Arab- speaking client who knew English and Hebrew I was directed to the right desk. I still cannot believe what happened. She looked at my Israeli ID dated September 21, 2014 only allowing me a year in which to get an Israeli license, but she extended the date on the form to- September 21, 2017.
My driving instructor was pleased, but let me know that it would be a while before he could schedule another test for me. I did not hear from him for a long time and wondered if perhaps he was upset that I did not pass the first time and had given up on me. But each time I phoned him he was friendly and said he was still working on it. So I remained patient and hopeful. After three more months my instructor phoned that he had an opening. I took and passed my test after another driving lesson. I am so happy to have my Israeli driver’s license even though it took six months.
Frank Mecklenburg is a freelance journalist