Double Life – Numbers

fubiniBy Daniela Fubini*

When I received my Tehudat Zehut (I.D.) number, almost exactly seven years ago, I would have never thought that it would quickly become the most spoken number in my Israeli life, a lot beyond the phone number which is now almost redundant, in the new Facebook and WhatsApp era.

The Russian lady, who took then a picture of me at Ben Gurion Airport, catching all my stress and tired face of deep night immigrant, gave me a thin blue book and told me in some language I somehow understood, that the number on page 2 was the Tehudat Zehut. And that the following day I should go to the public office to make the actual card, a laminated rectangle with blue holder that ever since comes with me everywhere I go. Actually, it could really not come with me most of the times, because one of the first things you learn as an Ole Chadash is that number by heart.

That number is me, and I am it. It’s absolutely shocking, if you consider that the Jews became exactly that, numbers, during World War Two in Europe. We were supposed to be annihilated, and part of the system was calling us by numbers as in to refuse to think about Jews as persons, individuals. Or it’s a subtle revenge instead. Today, in Israel, Jews (and anybody holding an Israeli identity card) use a number given to us by the State of Israel every single day, sometimes several times in one day.

My local supermarket knows me, and my personalized discounts and special offers, based on those 9 magical numbers. My bank, the Tax office, a large chain of house supplies, my health insurance, any of the doctors I may ever see: they all know in seconds who I am because of that number, and not because of my first and last name. Besides, my last name is always mis-spelled here in Israel, therefore long life to the Tehudat Zehut. It helps me keeping in mind that we are such a small people, that in theory we could meet in person each Israeli along our lives, and indeed we may have already: I started counting long ago.

*Daniela Fubini (Twitter @d_fubini) lives and writes in Tel Aviv, where she arrived in 2008 from Turin via New York.