In Israel, Mind the Gap… Store, That Is.

This is a guest post by Abigail Pickus, a writer based in Jerusalem.  Check out her site:  This article originally ran in The Jewish Week and is being reprinted with permission.
“I mean it’s nice, it’s really beautiful, but why the need for chain stores here? Like the Gap? Why not only Israeli stores?”
He was American, the fellow making these statements, and part of a group of us Americans ambling through the majestic Mamilla mall on our way to dinner. Ever been there? It’s really one of Jerusalem’s nuggets, I have to say, this boulevard of fancy shops and restaurants overlooking the Old City.
I know, I know, it’s so commercial. How bourgeois of me! And in a city so ripe with ancient Jewish history, too. I mean, here King David once trod (if I may use the word trod), followed by Solomon.
So how dare I defend the right of the Gap to take its place among the retailers. Croc’s, too, and North Face.
In truth, I don’t actually shop at these stores, mostly because the prices are much higher in Israel.
Which is all another way of saying, I’m just as much of a high-and-mighty, NPR-listening, anti-shopping mall and the cookie-cutter globalization of the chain store as the next person.
But I can afford to be this way because I go back to the States a lot and when I feel like it, I can always run to Loehmann’s and pick up exactly what I need, often for less!
So where does that leave the majority of my fellow Israelis who don’t have the luxury of regularly popping over to the States? Why shouldn’t they have the right to shop at the Gap like everyone else — just because some American Jews feel otherwise?
My new friend visiting from America saw it differently, though. He was put off by the incongruity of it all.
Far be it for me to put words in someone else’s mouth, but if I can put words in his mouth for a second, what he was really saying was that he expected Israel to be different. Kadosh. To set itself apart from the unholy diaspora. To be a beacon of light for the Jewish people, amen, selah.
He was particularly put off by the Burger’s Bar in the Old City, right outside the Wall.
“But back in the time of the Temple itself there were their own variations on the “B-Bar,” I argued. I mean, not to invoke Jesus since he’s not one of ours, anymore, but isn’t that why he went crazy by the Temple, turning over the tables of the vendors and moneychangers? Because they were desecrating a house of prayer and turning it into a den of thieves?
But a man’s gotta get his paws on some cash from time to time and he also has to eat. So where is it written that the holy and the profane cannot live side by side, just like ebony and ivory, together in perfect harmony?
Maybe it’s because I’ve now lived in Israel for a few years and if I ever had any misty-eyed nostalgia for the place, it’s certainly long gone.
This isn’t to say I’m not touched from time to time by certain distinctly Israeli encounters, because I am. Encounters that say in no uncertain terms, “You’re no longer in galut anymore, Dorothy.” Like all the Shabbat shaloming and the chag sameachim, even at the drug store or the grocery store or by the lady sitting next to me in the waiting room of the doctor’s office.
But that doesn’t mean every minute here is laced with holy devotion, because it’s not. At the end of the day, this is also a place to live like any other and its people are also people like any other, only a wee bit louder and more argumentative.
I remember not long after I moved to Israel, chatting up parents of a childhood friend during a visit back home.
After asking me how I’m finding living in Israel, my friend’s dad suddenly got this far-away look in his eyes as he described to me the heavenly feeling that descends upon Jerusalem on the Sabbath. “All the stores are closed and there are no cars on the street. Everyone has a smile for each other as they bid each other ‘Gut Shabbes,’” he said.
Is that before an exhausted parent pulls her kid’s pants down in broad daylight to pee right there on the street or after the gang of bored teenagers gather at the park at night and harass people as they walk by? I wondered.
But I don’t say anything.
Because as long as there is Israel — and I hope that’s as long as there are stars in the sky — there will always be American Jews sentimentalizing this holy city.
Far be it for me to disappoint them.
(Photo: sn00ze92)