Banking (really, anything bureaucratic in Israel) is known to be a horrendous experience, particularly for Americans who are used to polite customer service and an orderly, patient line. Today was the day to venture into this particular part of Israeli society, to open a checking account, and I was dreading it. I was all ready to have an incredibly stressful experience, fighting through opening my account in Hebrew, with a grumpy Israeli bank teller.
Enter my new best friend Batsheva. Batsheva made sure that Naomi and I understood that there was a 13 NIS monthly fee for the account, and that was a lot for the little bit of money we'd be depositing each month. We assured her that we had done our research and wanted this bank (הבינלאומי, the First International Bank of Israel) - the real reason being that this particular bank has less involvement/investments/profit from the territories than other major Israeli banks. But Batsheva wasn't my new best friend at that point in the conversation, so we didn't share that reason.
Batsheva also invited us for Rosh Hashanah, and told us all about her daughter who spent the past year in Los Angeles with the Jewish Agency, and was taken in by families for every Shabbat and chag. And after patiently going over every form, and explaining everything, Batsheva gave us her direct line phone number, saying, "Call for me anything, not just banking - anything!"
When Batsheva handed Naomi a thick Hebrew packet with all the details of the bank account, we snickered at the thought that we'd be able to read it or understand. Batsheva, seeing our snickering, said, "It's ok, I don't understand anything in it either, and I've been doing it for 10 years. I've even signed the forms myself!" Reassuring, Batsheva, really...
No one is a stranger in Israel. An often transactional interaction with a bank teller has the potential to become a dinner invitation, another mother looking for more young people away from their families to take care of. Israeli society doesn't seem to have the gray area of polite acquaintances - you're either being screamed at, or you're family. Or sometimes both.