Monday, May 14, 2012

Ten percent of Israelis don't know their date of birth

 As part of the Israeli governments efforts to make our buildings resistant to earthquakes, it was made possible to sell the roof to contractors who would get an easy ride to adding an extra floor in return for strengthening the building as a whole and adding a couple of rooms.  To do that you need to persuade all the apartment owners  to sign a contract transferring ownership of the roof.  There are twelve apartments in my building. Four are owned by one person, six by two and one by three people. The twelfth is owned by the government.

Its a great deal and everyone signed on, but it has been beset with delays. One of the apartments is public housing (the government owned one) and it proved almost impossible to get an official signature on the deal.  There were also difficulties getting preliminary municipal approval for planning details. 
However, despite the problems, we have now reached the point where the contractor is ready to submit plans to the planning committee and it emerged that the Tel Aviv planning committee requires a photocopy of all the apartment owners identity cards handed over with the plans. 

So I found myself  running around collecting identity cards and scanning them. Altogether I had to collect 19 identity cards.

To my astonishment three of the 19 had no date of birth. Two had a year of birth but no day or month and one has a year and month but no day. Needless to say they are all Israelis who were born abroad: one was born in Iran in the Twenties, another in Poland in the Thirties and one in Morocco in the Forties.
The Pole has a month but no day and was not born during the Second World War; I once knew a man who was found in a paper bag outside the Warsaw ghetto.  The bag contained a spoon on which was etched the word "Olek", which became his name.  Olek used to say the spoon was his birth certificate.

I asked if they knew their birthday.  I was told that the Moroccan lady knows she was born in the Spring. The Iranian gentleman's son told me his father comes from Estafan in central Iran, he laughed at my question and told me that Estefan is larger then the whole state of Israel and that they only had a general idea of when the old man was born, and that his father never celebrated his birthday. He said no-one would fantasize about bombing Estefan's nuclear facility if they knew how big it was. I checked with Wikipedia and found it has a population of 1.5 million.

I recounted this story at work and discovered that I share an office with a woman whose father has no date of birth either.  He was born in Morocco "just before the ninth of Ab" (a fast date in the Jewish calendar). Needless to say it was a home birth (I asked).  He chooses to celebrate his birthday on the 8t of August. 

So I Googled Israelis with no date of birth.  I got surprisingly little response, except for one article in Yediot Achronot, written by an Ethiopian immigrant and published in May 2011, announcing that the 800,000  Israelis (slightly more then 10% of the population) who have no date of birth could now choose to register one if they wished! 

So that's my source. I e-mailed the national bureau of statistics to request an official figure and will update this blog if I get an answer, but it looks like 10% of the population don't have a date of birth. Its worth noting that Islamic countries would not have used the Gregorian calendar before the first world war and that the Moslem calendar is not solar, which is to say that you can't infer from the Moslem calendar how old someone is in solar cycles (months change every new moon and the year is shorter than a solar year). Russia also used a different calendar. 
As for registering births in a national registry, most of the world didn't even register land ownership until the twentieth century. So perhaps its not that surprising.      

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