Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Perfect Day

It happened on one of my last days in Israel, doing one of the most boring errands in existence: grocery shopping.

In Germantown, WI, you drive in your comfortable car on roads with no traffic to a huge store with no lines and everything you could possibly want to eat. After you buy your food, somebody puts in bags for you, and depending on how much you have you bring it all out in the cart and put it directly in your car to drive home.

It wasn't exactly the same in Israel.

Instead, I would walk up all the stairs in the dorms to the bus stop and wait for the bus. Usually it wasn't a long wait leaving from the university. The bus ride was about 15 minutes. I still remember most of the stops (Shvedya, Beit Biram, Giv'at Downs, Janusz Korczak). Then I'd get off the bus and walk into Mercaz Horev, my typical grocery store. 

Of course, before you walk in they search your bags because it's Israel :)

I've never seen an "American-sized" grocery store in Europe or Israel. Building a store with aisles big enough for both a person and a cart to pass by each other hasn't crossed their minds. It was always crowded, and bizarrely, I always seemed to go shopping at senior citizen hour when everyone was taking leisurely strolls through the tiny aisles and stopping to greet and have in-depth conversations with everyone they came across.

It was also usually touch and go whether or not they would have the things in stock I wanted. They always had the basics (delicious bread, falafel, and hummus), but they didn't always have the less-Israeli items I wanted. 


Sampling of the bread I'd usually buy

Israel is great at a lot of things but cheese is not one of them, so it always made my day when they occasionally had imported French cheese in stock.

Even more exciting was when they had these beautiful pretzels, which was the perfect snack to munch on in between learning about the Holocaust. (that was a joke, sort of)



But seriously, these are an explosion of deliciousness in your mouth, especially when you're living in an essentially cheese-less country and you are from freaking Wisconsin.

The worst part of grocery shopping in Israel was waiting in line. I started a habit of timing how long it took. A lot of times it was around 20 minutes. Not because there were a lot of people in line, but because the cashiers wanted to know about everything that was going on in the life of every customer. They also discussed every item before they scanned it. "Oh, that's a good price. Oh, this is overpriced. What a shame. Oh, my nephew loves these. What a nice color. I should buy some. Are you sure you want these? You can find better." And so on.

And then there's Marissa waiting there sandwiched between 2 Jewish grandmas scolding her for not dressing warmly enough for the frigid 60 degree weather (that happened a lot).

When I was finally able to check out, it was time to throw everything into my huge Ikea bags and haul them down the street to the bus stop. Despite living in Haifa for a year I never came close to mastering the bus schedule. Sometimes it would work out and I could hop on a bus right away to get back to campus, but usually there was a wait. Sometimes buses on the schedule just wouldn't come and I'd wait for 40 minutes before stuffing myself and my food onto a bus that was so full that I didn't need to hold onto anything because all of the bodies around me would hold me up. Sometimes I'd give up and haul everything back down the street to Mercaz Horev where I could catch a taxi (for around 60 shekels instead of 6 for the bus).

So that was the typical shopping experience. I mean, there are worse things in the world than an inconvenient grocery shopping experience, but it was tiring to do that every week. Which is why I'll always remember when it all worked out perfectly.

Near the end of January, when I only had about a week and a half left in Israel before moving home, I set out after class to shop for food for the last time there. A bus conveniently pulled up right as I got to stop outside the dorms. Then, it made me smile to see that not only was a seat open, my favorite seat was open. The seat that was right by the back door so it was easy to get off AND it was a single seat so you didn't have to sit by anyone.

When I got to Horev, it wasn't crowded. That had never happened before in all the months I'd shopped there. I happily filled up my basket with the usual food and miraculously, after a 2 month long drought period of no pretzels in stock... they had returned. I bought 2 bags- 1 for my Jerusalem road trip that weekend, and 1 for the plane ride home. (Spoiler alert: they did not come close to lasting for the plane ride home).

The biggest miracle of all happened when I got to the check out and there was no line of grandmas having social hour with the cashier. My check-out lasted 2 minutes. By that point, I was in such a good mood that I didn't care about having to wait for the bus.

But wait. The perfect shopping experience wasn't over. As soon as I got to the bus stop, the trusty #37 bus pulled up. And not only did it have perfect timing, but it wasn't crowded. And my favorite seat was open once again.

At that point, I knew that it couldn't be a coincidence. It had to be Israel's parting gift to me.

Toda raba, Israel. Toda. Raba.

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