A unique rite of passage

Last Wednesday night, we were invited to our friends’ house for a unique rite of passage, to celebrate the 10th grade students, who were receiving their first identity cards called Teudat Zehut.  Most kids around the country simply go with a parent to the Ministry of Interior carrying the necessary forms and photos, wait to be served, hand in their paperwork, wait a few minutes and walk out with the card. At Daniella and Simone’s school, the principal gathers the kids’ forms and goes to the government office for them. A few days later, on Yom Yerushalayim or Jerusalem Day, the school distributes them in a ceremonial way.

After milling around the food and drinks table for a while, we were ushered into the living room. Rows of chairs were set up and sofas were pushed back so that everyone could sit. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, the Jewish Studies teacher addressed us and introduced the principal.

“Brochim habayim,” Aharoni said to welcome us. And then he made a joke, telling us that since Meitarim is a pluralistic school, which celebrates the entire spectrum of Jewish affiliation, that obtaining Israeli teudot zehut is a total contradiction of pluralism and therefore we could forget the whole thing and go home. Those of us who understood chuckled. My parents and a few other non-Hebrew speakers just sat politely and listened.

Aharoni continued to explain why the school chooses to distribute the cards on Jerusalem Day. Becuase Jerusalem doesn’t belong to any particular people but rather to the whole, to every group of people that claims it. The city is the very symbol of pluralism.

After he finished, one of the boy’s fathers was called up to speak. A sabra or native Israeli, he held up his blue, worn plastic bi-fold with his ID card to show everyone. Why is the ID card so special, he asked. What’s the big deal? Everyone 16 and over has one in Israel but why celebrate it?  “When do you have to renew the card?” he tested the kids. One mom shouted out, “Af paam!” Never, exactly the answer he was looking for. The compulsory Israeli ID card is a one-time bureaucratic experience. So, he explained, if we keep it all our lives and we reach old age and look back, we’ll see ourselves stuck in time at age 16. We laughed.

The card, he explained, must be with you at all times and is used in every aspect of life, as a healthcare identity number, when ordering theater tickets by phone or when going to the polls to vote. It’s laminated and held in one of two inner compartments of its plastic cover and includes the following personal details:

  • unique number, called Identity Number
  • first and last name
  • name of father
  • name of mother
  • date of birth (both Gregorian and Hebrew dates)
  • ethnicity (only in cards issued before 2005)
  • gender
  • place and date of issue (both Gregorian and Hebrew date)
  • color portrait photo

Beneath the card in the inner compartment is a folded paper called a sefach or appendix that contains the following information:

  • current address
  • previous addresses
  • previous name(s)
  • citizenship (the bearer may be a permanent resident with a foreign citizenship)
  • name, birth date and identity number of spouse and children

As a kid, the father explained, the meaningful part is the top one with the photo. But that shifts through time; now, his ID card has become more about who his kids are and their ID numbers. “And do you know what happens if you lose this sefach and have to get it replaced and your kids are over 17?” he asked. “They no longer appear because they’re no longer your dependents. Some of us oohed and aaghed while we digested the information. Those of who are more recent immigrants with perfectly intact blue covers wouldn’t know this tidbit. Just as those of who have not lost a son or daughter in the army or any act of terror wouldn’t know this.

The Jewish Studies teacher took over and told us we were going to divide up into small groups, with our 10th graders, to create a new symbol for the cover. The current cover is dusty blue with a menorah and olive leaves and the words Interior Ministry and teudot zehut written in both Hebrew and Arabic. After about 15 minutes, some kids presented their groups’ designs, one being a tablet (as in the tabernacle) within a tablet (as in Apple). A modern take on an old idea.

Daniella's group presenting their design -- Tablet within a Tablet

Finally, the principal called each student up one at a time to give them their cards. The kids smiled while parents and grandparents snapped their cellphone cameras. There was no Pomp and Circumstance, but somehow it felt as big as a graduation and as emotional as other more mainstream rites of passage.

Before we were dismissed and free to mingle, we stood for the HaTikva, Israel’s national anthem. I looked around at the students, their parents, many of whom are foreign born. I looked at Philippe and at my parents and felt that familiar wave of emotion pass through me, the one I struggle with that wants to hold onto my American self and embrace the other Israeli one too. The many sides of me, of us, as we settle in this country.

Daniella (far left), Juliette (British), Svia (Israeli-American), courtesy of my mom, Marianne Friedman

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21 Responses to “A unique rite of passage”

  1. Marianne/Mom/Grandma May 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    Very nicely done and appreciate the photo credits! It was indeed a very special and meaningful way to deliver a mundane but necessary item!
    love, Me

    • Jennifer Lang May 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      Thank you for the photos! xo

  2. wendy lehmann May 12, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Nice :-)

    Sadly by some unfortunate quirk of translation (or, as my partner believes, some insightfulness on the part of the Misrad Hapnin) my maiden name KLIMT has turned into KLAFT on my ID card. So please forgive my ambivalence to the poignancy of this permanent marker in time.

    • Jennifer Lang May 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      That is so, so funny. But wait, are you related to Gustave KLIMT? Wasn’t he Austrian too?

  3. Judy Rapoport May 12, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    Hi Jennifer — I enjoyed reading your piece — such a mundane, bureaucratic step, yet you have made it alive and even poignant. thanks

    • Jennifer Lang May 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      Thanks, Judy. I think when the experience makes you feel alive, then you just need to find the right words to describe and show it.

  4. Shlomo Liberman May 13, 2013 at 7:49 am #

    Very nice story about a usually bureaucratic nightmare.

    But you know me by now – can’t read anything without finding small typos, its my proofreading DNA that pops up again and again.
    The ID appendix is called sefach ספח not shepach


    • Jennifer Lang May 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      Toda, Shlomo, and keep that proofreading DNA. It’s a good gene! And it’s fixed.

      • Shlomo Liberman May 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

        Actually, you fixed only the first occurrence.
        There is another one in the sentence
        “..what happens if you lose this shepach”:

        • Jennifer Lang May 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

          I should hire you! Toda.

  5. Jill May 13, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Jennifer, what an interesting ceremony and tradition for the school to participate in and to envision for their community. Thanks for sharing! Xoxox

    • Jennifer Lang May 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

      It was interesting. Not something I ever thought about either! xo

  6. Auntie Mona May 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    Lovely, to have had this event and for Daniella and the mishpacha together to honor it!!

    And I had the exact same question about KLIMT; as I’ve just finished an excellent book about his painting of and relationship to Adele Bloch-Bauer, called The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor. It’s about much more than that, as was The Hare With Amber Eyes, and also In The Garden of Beasts. Sorry for the diversions here……..


    • Jennifer Lang May 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

      Agreed. It was a super nice night. xo

  7. Thelma Jacobson May 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Dear Jennifer,
    Mazal tov on your daughter’s receiving her ID card. You’re right, It is a milestone, and she looked lovely in the photo.
    I do have a bone to pick, however with Mr Aharoni. You probably could guess this by what I wrote in “Dad’s Jerusalem.” I believe that Jerusalem is the living, breathing heart of the Jewish People, and has been so for thousands of years – since King David wrote his Psalms.
    And as for “modern times,” would Americans say that Washington DC “doesn’t belong to any particular people, but rather to the whole, to every group that claims it…” What about the French? Would they say that about Paris? Not a chance. Of course, we would like any group to come and visit our capital city, and feel comfortable and interested. However, Jerusalem is our capital,and belongs to Israel and the Jewish People.

    I hope you have a nice holiday. Regards to your family.

    • Jennifer Lang May 16, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      Interesting, thought-provoking, thank you for your perspective. FYI the school principal is modern Orthodox so observant, kippah-wearing, and so open-minded. Shabbat shalom.

  8. Zondra Barricks May 16, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    Enjoyed this and the pictures. We are on our way to our own once in a lifetime event – my father’s 95th birthday party! Love to all, Z

    • Jennifer Lang May 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      95 is pretty amazing, I must say. Mazel tov on that very special occasion. I’m glad you can celebrate with him.

  9. Jon May 16, 2013 at 5:43 am #

    Jennifer, thanks for writing about this. It was a very special event and one that had no equivalent in my UK upbringing. It is a lovely ‘right-of-passage’ that marks our childrens’ transition to responsible membership of our community and this celebration was a fitting way to mark the moment. Also, more practically … in a world where everyone tries to get fake ID’s to circumvent age restrictions, there is something very sensible about issuing ID’s at 16!

    • Jennifer Lang May 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      You’re so right. I hadn’t thought about the whole fake ID craze and how different this is from that. So much more meaningful!

  10. Libby May 17, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    liked it

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