When I lived in America, I enjoyed shopping. Perhaps enjoyed is the wrong word. Loved, adored, and maybe even delighted in the activity of shopping. According to many well-meaning friends and family, maybe too much. I can own that about myself. And so when I told people I was making aliyah, the questions "Where will you live?" and "How will you shop?" were posed with equal frequency. As I packed to leave, many wondered how I would fit my enormous, yet carefully curated wardrobe into just a few bags. Especially as that wardrobe was enhanced by pre-aliyah shopping trips. Whenever I asked people, "What should I bring when I move?" the answer was inevitably "Clothes!" (also Ziploc bags, which I still don't quite understand.) So I bought and packed, and decided to hold off shopping until I made a return trip to America, land of outlet malls and clearance sales.
And I was doing great! I had gotten extremely good at mixing and matching my pre-aliyah wardrobe, utilizing accessories to keep things fresh; I was in the budget-concious zone! And then I realized that Rosh Hashana and the rest of the Jewish holidays were just a month away, and I felt conflicted. On the one hand, I am a full-time ulpan student. That pays me exactly zero dollars (/shekels) a month, for 5 months. This is the longest stretch of non-earning I've had in my entire adult life, and I am essentially living off my aliyah stipend and savings. The responsible thing to do would be to wait to shop, right? But on the other hand...there is no shopping as fun as pre-holiday shopping, right? So today I took the bus over to Kenyon Malcha, the big mall in Jerusalem to get a couple new things to bring in the new year.
Clothes in Israel come in 2 basic categories- sold in the shuk (market) and marked up to 4 times the price. Stores such as the Gap and H&M are pricey in this country! Up is down! Left is right! So I decided if I was going to shop here, I should stick to what I know- international stores. I know, I know, I should be embracing Israeli culture, and that includes Israeli fashions and styles. But realistically, that is not my vibe. So I went to my happy place first- Forever 21. In America, one can got to "Forever," try on 10 things, buy 5 and not even think about it. For me, in Israel, it was much more involved. Prices are higher and instead of just shopping to shop I was shopping for survival (sorry, maybe that's a bit much.) But I made a strict budget and stuck to it. Whilst shopping, I noted the major differences between shopping in America and here in Israel.
First and foremost is the child and baby aspect. Israelis, and chareidi Israelis in specific, are accustomed to bringing their children and babies everywhere. I don't mean parks and restaurants. I mean weddings and wine festivals. Therefore, malls are essentially just huge play areas for humans 3 feet and under. This translates into free, fun kids activities, stroller parking areas, carousels and rides for the little ones. It also means crying babies on store lines, in dressing rooms and bathrooms. Ask anyone, I am a real baby-lover. But stand on a fifteen minute line with a wailing bundle of joy and you're gonna ask yourself "do I really want this sweater that bad?"
Next is sales. I was well known in my circles for being a great shopper. Like 90% -off-great. I even had a short-lived blog dedicated to my awesome bargains, called "Dana's Deals"- true story. But in this country, a "sale" is quite a misnomer. It is not uncommon to see a sign offering "Spend 500 shekel, take 100 shekel off!" (Who has 500 shekel?!) or "Buy 3 get 1 free!" (But I only want one!) This doublespeak makes me long for the "Take 40% off Sale" deals I took for granted at my beloved Roosevelt Field.
But now to some mall upgrades. I would always walk around the mall in New York, starving, only to have a frozen yogurt for lunch. I would stare longingly at the food court, wishing I could try whatever greasy junk food samples I was offered. Now I live in a country where every shop in the food court is kosher! I can have anything I want! In the mood for sushi? I can have it. Craving pizza- I can have that too! As any kosher observant Jew will tell you, it's a huge deal! Another great thing about Jerusalem mall is that they celebrate the Jewish holidays along with you! Today they were selling special wines and delicacies for Rosh Hashana and they are always decorated to reflect the Jewish time of year- how special is that? Sure beats a tiny menorah next to a gigantic tree during holiday season!
You take the good with the bad. I am much more okay with overpriced tee shirts from Zara when I think about the kosher Chinese food waiting for me right next to the kippa and shofar stand on the second floor. I am learning that just like everything else in this country, each grain of salt comes with a heaping teaspoon of sugar to make it better. And besides, I can always shop online!