It’s All About Money
Aaah, money. Nobody seems to earn much of it in Israel – certainly not in 2003, at the height of the unemployment crisis, and least of all our heroine. Her relationship with Boaz over, she starts to wonder if there’s any point in staying on. Perhaps she should go travel, clear her mind? Excellent idea! There’s just one small problem… How will she afford the trip?
by Jill Cartwright
Since the talk on the beach with Boaz, it took only a few weeks for the relationship to completely unravel. There had been talk of him moving full-time up to Tel Aviv as his studies in Beâ€™er Sheva only required him to be there a couple of days each week and of us finding an apartment together, but the whole marriage conversation had really nipped it all in the bud and it seemed pointless to be picking out paint for the living room walls when we knew things werenâ€™t really going anywhere.
And so once again we parted ways and I wondered what I would do with myself. Things felt different this time â€“ more final, like the book had been closed and sealed on this chapter of my life. I was feeling it was time to move on. Noa had moved out to a moshav with her boyfriend, Shahar was newlywed, Grizzly was ensconced with his new girlfriend and I felt I needed to be far away from Boaz, fearing that if I stayed we would constantly sway into each otherâ€™s lives, but always a little unsure and always a little reluctant. Maybe itâ€™s time I left Israel, I thought.
I felt at a bit of a loss, tired and not a little stuck. Much like the entire country really as we drew into the final months of 2003, when the dark, black cloud of â€œthe situationâ€ pressed heavy on everyoneâ€™s lives and the fear, desperation, tit for tat stubbornness and stagnating hatred trudged on, exhausting, frustrating, and at the risk of sounding flippant, really annoying.
And so I decided to do what I usually decide to do when relationships end and life isnâ€™t opening any obvious doors for me â€“ I decided to go traveling. Yes, I thought, Iâ€™ll jump on a plane to India or Southeast Asia somewhere, backpack my way round for a few months and surely the answer would come to me. I started to get all drummed up about the idea, planning routes and treks, the best beaches and places to study ashtanga â€“ yes Iâ€™ll get away from it all I thought.
Until, of course, it came to the most crucial part of my planning â€“ money. I didnâ€™t actually have any. Two years of working and I had amassed absolutely nothing.
In fact as I sat deep in reverie planning my solo trek around Rajasthan, I got a phone call from my bank manager, who just â€œwanted to make sure that I knew I was so overdrawn, because as a non-citizen, Iâ€™m paying really high interest so I should really cover it.â€
And that was a nice call. The woman from my bank once called me and left a message on my answer phone that if I didnâ€™t pay off my overdraft they would cancel my card. On my answer phone! By that time, however, I had learned the ways of the country enough to call her up and shout at her down the phone about some basic guidelines of customer service and manage not at all to address the very real problem of the state of my account.
You see, even though I am probably the last person on the planet that anyone should ever look to for money management or financial nous â€“ to which my decision to take an arts degree, move into print journalism and then move to Israel at the height of an economic crisis attests â€“ you can take it from anyone: itâ€™s really hard to make any money here.
My friend Shahar puts it like this: â€œTake what you would earn in a Western country; halve it, then divide by three, trim off another 5 percent before halving it again and you get the ballpark figure of what you would earn in Israel.â€ Yeah, itâ€™s hard to make money here.
Unless of course you belong to one of the four families here who seem to own the whole country and its entire wealth and whose stories of buying and selling, court battles and family fallouts fill the business pages like a particularly spicy script of The Bold and the Beautiful.
While the rest of us not so bold and not so beautiful are left juggling day jobs and night jobs, fending off the bank manager, drowning in overdraft and buying everything in installments.
Israelis love buying things in installments. You can buy your weekly shopping in Israel in installments.
I had no idea what the checkout girl wanted from me the first time she asked me if I wanted to buy my rather sorry collection of staple supplies in two or three payments â€“ but soon tashlumim (installments) became a loyal and trusted friend among the words that populated my Hebrew vocabulary. Tashlumim the gas bill, tashlumim at the hairdresserâ€™s tashlumim anything from the weekly necessities to a flight home.
My friends in England, peers with whom I had graduated high school and university, were already a few rungs up on the ladders of their individual careers and earning healthy salaries that allowed for the acquisition of the â€œniceâ€ things in life – cars, clothes, holidays, houses. The very concept of buying a house in Israel didnâ€™t even register on the radar of my comprehension. How the hell does anybody ever buy a house here?
My English friends were settling down, cozying into their nests, and I had less cash to my name than the day 10 years beforehand that I had skipped out of my parentsâ€™ house and rushed off excitedly to university. I kept having to turn down the steady stream of wedding invitations, explaining to them with heart-felt regret that I just couldnâ€™t afford the flight, not mentioning that even the ticket for the Heathrow Express from the airport to central London was a strain on my budget.
Everyone I knew was struggling and every business was struggling. The newspaper twice cut our salaries, sending us all brief apologetic letters asking us for patience and thanking us for our hard work during such â€œdifficult years.â€ And the Passover and Rosh Hashanah gifts that it is customary for Israeli firms to give out to employees, went from a NIS 200 voucher the first holiday to a bottle of wine the next to a small card, thanking us for our patience and hard work during such difficult years.
I was earning more money as a waitress in a bar â€“ the only businesses that did seem to be flourishing.
One of my good friends from university was a VP at Merrill Lynch, with a flat overlooking Big Ben and a deposit down on a second home in the country. I was a part-time waitress, working for a broke newspaper who bought pasta on tashlumim. Something was very wrong.
So my relationship was at a definite end, not to mention my visa (which deserves a full chapter all to itself), my career was stalled and travel was off the cards. It seemed like I was going to have to do what all people approaching their 30s do when they find themselves back at square one: I called my Mum and told her I was coming home.