Israeli Life: Big Money
What would you do if you won the lottery? One woman is using her winnings to start fresh—and, perhaps, give a little happiness to those around her.
I won the lottery in Israel. Not the whole kit and caboodle but something called the Extra. You have six slots and fill each with a number from zero to nine.
I got all six right—not that I picked them. I come from a gambling family, smalltime, and I knew that people who have their numbers picked automatically by machine win as often statistically as those who use their own brains and luck. So, on Tuesday, January 15, 2008, I happened to be in possession of two machine-picked lotto tickets with two Extras filled in for a total outlay of 85.60 shekels ($22).
Of course, it is shameful for anyone in my financial position to bet money like that. Not that I am alone. About 60 percent of Israelis live with an overdraft, which means the bank allows you to overdraw up to the sum you earn each month. There is simply no other way to afford ordinary life. There are also a lot of other gambling schemes—scratch cards and something called Quick Chance, which is played every few hours for the truly dedicated. But I just do the lotto ever since I heard that the soccer pool, which has better odds, is infected with game-fixing scandals every few years.
I opened the newspaper the next morning and checked the winning numbers. In the big lottery, where you can win enough to buy a new dress and the dress factory, I won 10 shekels, but in the Extra, wow. I got the first three numbers right. Good day. Then I looked at the next three. Had those, too.
I turned 64 on January 3rd and I live with Piglet: I used to be a divorced single parent, but my four kids are all grown up and out of the house. Piglet is a 16-year-old black mutt, mostly Belgian shepherd, and slow to move in the morning. I figured I could wait to walk him and meanwhile skip over to the lottery booth and claim my 5,000 shekels, if I was lucky enough to be the only one to have those numbers right.
The woman in the booth engaged me in conversation while she put in a call to see if she could have a check deivered to the booth. That was good. She thought maybe she should try to calm me down. She had told me I was the sole winner, only I got the sum wrong.
I did not win 5,000 shekels. I won 50,000. That’s about $12,000.
Nobody bets the lottery without deciding beforehand how to spend the winnings. That’s the fun of it. The usual wish of most families is to pay off their mortgage and then do the same for their kids. If I could strike it rich, the first thing I would do is have a statue put up in the traffic circle at the end of the street of Piglet and his late friend, Rocky, two bad dogs known to so many in the neighborhood. If the city did not let me, I would have to buy a park. Not to mention a new computer and a new car.
You do not play the lottery to win unless you are a fool. It is the stuff of dreams. Once in a while, a dream does come true. I remember my mom explaining how to play the daily pick of three numbers as she had learned to when she moved to Connecticut. She had asked the ticket seller: “You mean like two, three and one?”
“Yes,” said the ticket seller and handed her the ticket she had unknowingly bought. My mother was a bit miffed until those numbers came in that day. So you get the thrill, and also there is a bonus. In Israel, the state lottery donates 100 percent of its profits to build such things as schools, soccer fields and community centers. Throwing away your money for a good cause feels better.
It struck me with full force that I was really lucky—I didn’t have a heart attack. But the lotto does not deliver, and I had to go pick up the check.
I went home and walked the dog. Then my friend Janna came over and I asked her to go with me to get the money. Janna said it was “normali” that I didn’t have a heart attack. That requires “millionim,” she added. Janna is a single mom, too, from the Republic of Georgia and trained to be an economist. But she works as a caretaker, a cook and has a little catering business on the side.
Off we went. Janna and I arrived at the right address. The building looked like a cross between an underbudgeted hospital and an underbudgeted prison: a huge, empty central courtyard with long, dun-colored corridors. Janna located the right nondescript room. I was turning into a zombie. Emotional overload. I thought of one of my favorite Anne Sexton lines: “With mercy for the greedy.”
We came into the office, I presented my ticket, and a guy at a back desk said, “We should have a recording to play at moments like this,” and he imitated the Moroccan ululating cheer heard at simhas. How right he was.
My mother died three years ago. She was 100 years and 4 months old. Her last outing was to the casino. I wished I could tell her about my win; she would have done a little jig. She had taught me, during casino visits, that tax is deducted at the source and that you tip the ticket seller just as you tip the dealer in a casino win.
In a matter of seconds, Betti, the woman at the front desk, wrote out a check, and I asked about the tax. It turned out that in the Israeli lotto system, wins are not taxed up to 51,000 shekels. I got through by the skin of my teeth. As I do with so many things. We raced to the bank, where we waited in line. You can be rich as Croesus but there is still no parking space and there is always waiting at the bank. Once outside, I let out a holler, a whoop of joy. Because I can.
The win means to me that I can clear my overdraft, which had climbed over the last few months to just shy of my limit. I can do what the road signs tell me: Begin again. In the right direction. A few years ago, a ring road was built around western Jerusalem and named after former Prime Minister Menahem Begin. But if you don’t know the right pronunciation, it’s easy to read the road sign as starting fresh: “Begin North.”
So i tipped the woman who sold me the ticket 200 shekels. And I am giving each of my kids 4,000, that’s $1,000. Because manna from the skies is good to spread around, I also threw away 250 shekels at the coffee shop next door. (Again, because I can.) One hundred shekels for the guy who owns the shop, who happens to be supporting his parents (this is Israel, you know everyone’s business) and 100 for Ismail, the regular helper, who keeps a whole wheat halla for me every Friday and always treats me nicely and is slowly teaching me Arabic. I also gave 50 shekels to the Arab kid who helps out.
One of my failings is that I am a smoker. When I was in the coffee shop the day after my win, after I handed out money, Ido, the owner, presented me with a gift right back. A carton of cigarettes wrapped in red ribbon.
I didn’t want to take it. But I thought of my middle son, who says when someone hands you money, or maybe for that matter any gift, just say thank you. So I did.
Sasha Sadan moved to Jerusalem in 1971. She is a copy editor for the English-language edition of Ha’aretz newspaper.