| Musings |

Supermarket Saga

I remember thinking, Why can’t this process be a little more like in America?

When we first moved to Eretz Yisrael as a hot- off-the-press shanah rishonah couple, there were a few reasons why I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to permanently call Israel my home. One of the largest obstacles was, no doubt, my poor grasp of the Hebrew language. I mean, if you can’t be funny in Hebrew, then what’s life worth? And living in an apartment? Isn’t that for people who still fit into their sheva brachos outfits? Once you graduate to “real life,” you live in a house… with a yard… and probably a swing set.

A little lower down on the list of reasons why I could never live in Israel was the incredibly inconvenient system set up for grocery shopping. It just seemed like the equivalent of running a marathon. Or more accurately, a schlep-a-thon.

Back then I didn’t have a car. Restocking my kitchen meant pushing a baby in a stroller (already heavy enough) up a large hill, or bumping them up five kajillion steps (has a study ever been done comparing the effects of bumped babies versus non- bumped babies? I’m curious…), stuffing the basket with whatever I could while an unsafe number of bags dangled precariously from the handlebar, and then back down the steep hill we go (dig in those heels!).

I remember thinking, Why can’t this process be a little more like in America? Back at home, you simply got into your car, drove to the supermarket, parked, shopped, put your stuff in the trunk, and drove home. Now doesn’t that sound like a dream?

Many years later, baruch Hashem, I’m lucky enough to call Eretz Yisrael my home. I have the best teudat zehut number known to mankind (and a good thing, too, because you can barely pick up your kid from playgroup without it), I’m decently funny in Hebrew (or are they laughing at me?), and yes, I still live in an apartment after 20+ years of marriage (and I work in home organization, so even if I did fit into those sheva brachos outfits they have long ago been donated to the nearest gemach).

Shopping is definitely nothing like it used to be, but even with my trusty 2008 Santa Fe and the advent of many large supermarkets boasting sizable parking lots, grocery shopping is not the idyllic experience I once envisioned it would be, no matter where I’d live. Take a deep breath. Let’s begin.

“There’s nothing to eat in this house,” says any child at any time. I look through the cabinets and actually, yes, we are running low on snacks. Snacks. The bane of my existence. They are painfully overpriced, entirely unhealthy, and half of them end up stale in my garbage can. I actually figure that for every five bags of pretzels I buy, one entire bag will end up making its way to the trash. But you can’t just throw it out immediately. Oh no, that would be bal tashchis.

First those pretzels have to go through their tikkun in life by sitting in a baggie in someone’s knapsack for two days. After that they may be transferred into another plastic baggie in an attempt to trick someone into thinking it’s a new bag of pretzels (usually doesn’t work), and only then does it join its peers in my garbage. It’s one of those things we parents need to work on accepting, along with spilled cereal and milk (can one have two banes of existence?) and lack of sleep.

Once we’ve established the need to go shopping, we still need to figure out when. Well, Sunday they’re just restocking the shelves and they might be out of stuff. You have to be crazy to approach a supermarket Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday with the throngs of Shabbos shoppers. That leaves Monday and Tuesday.

Now that that’s worked out, we need to pick a time. Not too early because of the traffic, not too late because of the traffic, not in the middle of the day because of the traffic (if you’re laughing, you have not been driving around Yerushalayim recently). That leaves 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Not a minute earlier or later.

I arrive at nine thirty, and the parking lot even has some spots available. I have my trusty saved-from-the-last-shopping-trip large plastic bags (which absolutely cannot be used when teenage daughters come along) stowed conveniently in my trunk.

We are off to the races. Enter the most amazing teudat zehut number ever into the machine, get my self-check clicky thing, and start shopping. Cans, fruits and veggies, snacks (sigh…), cereal, baking items, cleaning supplies. If in doubt just buy because you absolutely do not want to be doing this again any time soon. (Spoiler alert: You will be doing this “any time soon” because as long as the humans in your house are eating, you will be running out of food and shopping trips will again be necessary.)

Beep beep goes the machine as each item is entered and placed into the cart. Don’t pile heavy items on the bananas, don’t forget the printer paper, the toothpaste, the aluminum foil pans, the garbage bags (for the pretzels), the detergent….

At some point, you may notice something leaking from your cart. Maybe the Windex that wasn’t closed properly (true account here…) or perhaps some yogurt that got crushed. Stay calm. Loud screaming will just attract unwanted attention and will not be good for your kids’ shidduchim. Just make a beeline for the bathroom to wash your hands and procure some much-needed paper towels. (Ever wonder why the bathrooms in supermarkets are out of soap? Or paper towels? Or ANYTHING?? It’s a supermarket for goodness’ sake! Can’t they just take the item off the shelf and stick it in the bathroom?!)

At some point, the cart starts getting a little heavy and pushing it from the handle is just not working anymore. You’ve got to use the side of the wagon, the front, whatever it takes not to hit that cute old man taking off his glasses to read the small print on the spices.

Hang the paper towels from the front, tie a few bags around the handlebar (reminiscent of the stroller days), make a fortress around the rim of the wagon with ten cereal boxes to give some support to the items teetering dangerously on top (six regular cereals and four Shabbos cereals. Stop. Trivia question: What do non-shomer Shabbos people call Fruity Pebbles and Trix?)

By the time you’re at the dairy aisle, the cart is stacked to the gills, you have a heavy bag of items that do not fit in the cart digging into your forearm, and you’re holding two bags of pitas in your other hand as you push (Pull? Drag? Heave?) your cart to the checkout section.

You’re at the finish line, but don’t let out your breath yet. There are so many reasons why a perfectly normal grown woman may break down in tears, even at such a late point in the journey. No credit card. Credit card not working. Machines are down. Or maybe there are just too many people waiting for that one guy to help them with whatever issues they have and can’t you just press that button that says I’m over 18 so I can buy the wine already??? (unless he’s not sure whether I am actually 18 or not, and then I’m flattered).

On to the parking lot. Now is where it gets really tricky because by now the wagon is not just hard to handle, it’s a loaded weapon out of control, swinging wildly this way and that. Factor in a minor incline in the parking lot and a plethora of cars at all angles and you need to have biceps of steel to hold on tight to that wagon so that this shopping trip does not become even more expensive by denting and scratching any number of cars on the way to yours.

Unloading. More strategy. Dairy and freezer items need a different designated area so we know what gets precedence in the unloading process. Nobody wants to smell that defrosted loaf of gefilte fish on the way to cheder the next morning. And don’t forget to set aside chocolate chips in the summer as well, unless you prefer your chocolate chips in one misshapen blob.

That night you go to sleep exhausted but content. Your cabinets are bursting, your fridge is stocked, and all the used shopping bags have been safely returned to the car for next time.

As dawn breaks you hear the bedroom door creak open, and little feet approaching. Warm breath greets your ear as your child quietly whispers, “Mommy, there are no snacks that I like. All I see are pretzels!”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 877)

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