When renting an apartment in Jerusalem, one of the things that one has to pay, in addition to water, phone, etc., is the arnona, or municipal tax. It’s pretty steep–about 3000 NIS (that’s New Israel Shekel to you), roughly $675. One can obtain a student rate, which knocks a good $500 USD off it, which is not, as they say, bubkes.
I determined from the beginning that this was worth my time, and set about obtaining the necessary paperwork. First, a letter from my school here verifying that I am, in fact, enrolled there, explaining how long I’ll be around, what my hours are, etc. This took about three weeks to get, between bureacratic snafus, people being out of town, and plain old-fashioned Israeli slowness. Got the letter. Okay.
Then I needed to find a lawyer to write an affidavit verifying that I am, in fact, a student with no particularly impressive sources of income and a lot of expenses. This step entailed, first, finding a lawyer, and then hiring the lawyer to do the job, and then finding a time when I could go to the nether reaches of the city to pick up said letter. (It cost me about 100NIS, or $22ish to do this.)
Then I needed to fill out the form for the Iryah (city), which was all in Hebrew. Nice lawyer lady helped me with this, thank goodness.
Then I needed to make sure I had 2 xeroxes of my lease, and a xerox of my passport, visa, and all the above stuff. This all took me about 6 weeks of trudgery to get together–so I’m now a good 6 weeks behind on my bill.
Finally, all things theoretically together, I went to the Iryah building (city hall). But they said, no, no, come back on Sunday. I went back on Sunday. They said, no, no, you came too late, it has to be before 2pm. Oooohkay.
So today, filled with the kind of fear and dread I should be saving for Yom Kippur, I trooped up to the building around 8:45. I asked the information woman where to go. She sent me to a place. The people there sent me to a different place. I took a number. I waited. And waited. It was clear from the start of this enterprise just how much Kafka really was a member of the Jewish people.
I had a moment of real worry when I realized that all the Jews were waiting in one section and all the Arabs in another. Did they have different municpal rules? Should I start hollering about separate but equal? Duh, no–just that the office people over there speak Arabic, and the ones over here speak Hebrew. Right. It was interesting to see such a concrete example of how language helps maintain these divisions, though.
Finally, at long last, it was my turn. I handed the woman all my forms. There was some early panic when my landlady’s ID# wasn’t in the right place, and so for a bit she wasn’t coming up on their computers. But then she did (phew!) The Iryah lady asked me all sorts of questions, very few actually related to my student status. I sweated through all of them. Oh, please please please don’t let me have missed something and have to come back another time! Please no! When she asked me to list my general non-rent expenses for the month, I really started to sweat. Um, I dunno! If I guess too low or too high, will I have to start all over again?
Finally, at long last, she printed up a bill. For not very much money. Here you go, she said. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Paying bills, once you have them, is fairly easy–you just go to the post office and wait in line there.
“This is it, right?” I asked. “I can pay my arnona for the whole year and be done with it?”
“Well, for this year, yes,” she said. “Calender year ’04. You’ll have to come back again in January and do this all over again to pay for ’05.”
My only consolation was the deeply sympathetic look I got from the guy waiting behind me.