Early Days—Very Early Days I
At first I didn’t understand why the bankers’ cheque I’d brought with me from ‘the old country’ would take three weeks to process. A bankers’ cheque, I had always understood, was the same as cash. I went from bank to bank and received the same answer. But why?
The Head Banker of my neighbourhood branch took the cheque, examined it over and over, then nodded. A foreign cheque, is this? Nodding. Slowly. He opened an enormous account registry out of which might have flown moths. He struggled to find the right page and picked up a pen. Dickens, I kept thinking, Dickens. I expected quill and ink. By that point in my previous life I had been using a computer for more than 10 years.
If you live in a place for a very long time you stop noticing how things are done by other people. I noticed. I looked up at my Israeli friend who made a ‘relax, don’t say anything’ gesture, so I didn’t. I wanted to, though. (FYI: This gesture includes an elaborate closure of the eyes, a squinch of the lower lip, a slight nod of the head to the side and a minimal hand movement. Good thing I speak body language.)
With effort, the banker found the right place to register my precious cheque. Having done so, he stood, reached over to shake my hand and assured me that ‘within a month or so’ I would have access to my very minor fortune. I froze. How to pay first, last and security rental requirements? Grocery bills? Not his problem. A cheque book? Not until the cheque clears. How about a modest starter loan? No such thing. However, there was a small amount of money to come from the Jewish Agency if I were to stay a full year. I looked up over my glasses at him. I understand, he said.
(I now compare this experience with e-mail money transfers of today. Some twenty-four hours and your bills are paid. Who said modernisation would be the ruin of civilisation?)
Oh dear, what to do? In the country for three days and flat broke already. OK, how about a new one for my worry space?
This bank had been shoe-horned into a once-upon-a-time ground-floor flat in a large, elderly apartment building. Fair enough; free-standing bank buildings were rare with the urbanisation of landscapes everywhere. But had the bank ceiling/upstairs flat floor been reinforced? Could some enterprising bank robber just drill through the floor/ceiling and clean out the bank on one pre-Pesach evening when no one was working and celebrants were moving furniture, throwing books on the floor to dust them and banging pots around? I proposed the situation to my Israeli companion who looked at me with a marvellous combination of doubt and disbelief that I should say or even think such a thing. It has since happened.
Always on the alert for problems, I enquired about a safety deposit box for my precious documents and few gems. Never heard of it, not in this district, try over there. Four years later I wandered into a distant neighbourhood bank and much to my delight, they had one available. My delight diminished with every step I took into the dark, dank basement. Many years later I saw this basement being robbed in films with Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes and too many others. Nothing ever happened to mine. If only they had known.
cross posted Israel Thrives