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Two day yom tov (and tales from the trenches of pre-yom tov shopping)

I had a lot of work to do this past week (and the week before, and next week), so I did not cook. Instead, I went to two grocery stores and the bakery. It was quicker, but only by a small amount.

People treat two days of non-chol (i.e., Shabbat or chag) the way I imagine folks in the mid-Atlantic treat an impending winter storm that is predicted to drop 4-6 inches: with a touch of panic and several trips to the grocery store to stock up on large quantities of bread and milk. Although two days of chag are a dime a dozen in the Diaspora, it is something of a rarity here, only seen on Rosh Hashanah and when chag abuts Shabbat, as it did this past weekend.

The grocery store was already kind of crazy on Monday (people walking around with carts piled high as if they expected an impending week-long inability to purchase food, rather than two days with four holiday meals and two days with the grocery stores closed).

When I went back (poor planning) on Wednesday morning, I thought I was very clever to go before noon and on erev erev yom tov, not the eve of the yom tov itself. However, when I made my way to the deli counter in the back of the store to try to buy cheese, the line was...something else. I wanted to try some goat and sheep cheeses, since I am lactose intolerant and have found that they are easier to digest. The line was perhaps 10 people long, but it took me about thirty minutes to get to the front of it. Many people were purchasing multiple kinds of cheese, some shredded, some sliced, and all had to be carefully weighed before being shredded or sliced and then wrapped. I don't think they had extra people working behind the counter in anticipation of Shavuot, as would have made sense. No, they seemed to have the usual two.

Line gymnastics:


I wanted to have a look at the actual cheeses before waiting in line for 30 minutes, only to find that they were all bovine. So I went up to have a look at the cheeses and almost before I had moved, the cart behind me moved up to close the spot. So I had to gingerly force my way back into the line that I had clearly not meant to leave, since I went from the cheese line to the cheese counter to look at the cheese.


A woman came by and asked the man behind her to save her place in line behind him while she went to do more grocery shopping. This is the norm in Israel. It happens in the checkout line, too, but at least then they leave their cart in their "space." I always tell the people that I will save their spot (and even did this myself, once--whoops!), but if someone later comes and challenges their claim, I don't interfere beyond saying, "She came and asked me to save her spot ten minutes ago." If you don't engage in this practice, you're probably a friar [sucker], which I surely am, for waiting in long lines when it is not necessary since other people are waiting in the  line anyway.

Anyway, so this one woman asked this guy to save her a spot, and then she went off with her empty cart and returned to the line with a full cart five or ten minutes later. I had seen an Arab couple hovering behind/near the line, trying to decide if they should join it, for awhile. It was not quite clear when they joined the line, but they were definitely in the vicinity, and eyeing the cheeses, before the non-friar woman asked the man to save her a spot. The line-space-saver told the returning non-friar woman that she had a spot in the line, but it was behind this Arab couple, which I corroborated by saying that I had seen them in line before she got there. She was not happy.

But, no, that was not all!


While she was gone, a man standing next to the front of the line (looking at the cheeses) had called out, apparently to no one in particular, that he was at the end of the line. So when the woman came back, and wanted to claim her space in front of the Arab couple, and was rebuffed and moved behind them, she also had to contend with this man standing next to the front of the line who claimed to be immediately behind the Arab couple and thus--you guessed it--in front of her!

I felt that she pretty much got what she deserved for trying to get around waiting in the damn line. If you're going to ask someone to save your (non) spot while you continue your shopping, you're going to have to accept that other people are going to come and verbally "save" spaces in the line in the interim. And you aren't really going to be able to contradict them because--guess what?--you weren't in line.

She was pissed off, but it was somehow resolved without coming to fisticuffs and everyone succeeded in buying their cheese for yom tov. 

[Interlude: I asked for 100 grams each of three different cheeses and in each case, the weight was over--once by 48%. He asked if it was okay and I wanted to ask him to take part off and re-weigh it, but then I remembered the long line behind me and said that it was not great, but I would accept it. I am such a friar. Don't people who cut and weigh cheese all day know approximately how much 100 grams is? Do you think, dear readers, that he purposely over-cut to get me to buy more? Or was he just not being careful?]


Not so with the two men arguing at the actual checkout line. Okay, so they didn't come to fisticuffs, but they were loudly screaming at each other. When the woman behind me in the express checkout line grumbled "איזה חוצפה!" ["What hutzpah!"] that the elderly man in front of us was in line with far more than 10 items, I pointed out that this line was for handicapped folks and he probably qualified under that, even though he was shopping with his younger daughter. (I only know this because I once made a face and someone pointed out that the person was elderly and thus entitled to wait in the express line rather than the very long, yet often faster, regular checkout lines.)  And then I said that the real hutzpah was the grown men (both customers) arguing loudly in the checkout line next to us. She gave me a look like I was crazy and she really did not understand why grown men arguing in the checkout line, delaying the purchases of everyone behind them, was hutzpahdik.


On actual erev chag, I cleverly got up at the early hour of 9 am and went straight to a local dairy bakery. I say "cleverly" because things are still relatively quiet at 9 am on most Friday mornings (it's either like Sunday or a workday here, depending on who you are, meaning that people are either at home or at work at 9 am), and the grocery stores only get crazy at around 11 am. Only 9 a.m. is clearly not early on erev chag. The bakery was packed. I knew exactly what I wanted and so I went about, getting it, and then got on the end of what I assumed was the line. 

The line apparently had two ends, though, because there was nowhere--at all--to stand. So people just stood wherever they were when they picked up their last item and then found their way to the line eventually. So, for example, if you were by the borekas and wanted challah, you just got into the kind of line in front of the boreka counter and waited until the line got to the challah and then picked up the challah on your way to the kupot [cash registers--someone who works at one is called a "kupa-ee" or "kupa--eet"].

I, however, found myself in the part of the line that was behind a warrior Israeli woman--a non-friar to the core. She declared that our part of the messy non-line was The Line and she addressed each person waiting anywhere else and told them that they should get behind us. And they did! It was amazing!


When we--this warrior woman and I--got closer to the registers she started opening up plastic bags for people and handing them out, to speed things along. It was a lovely moment. She was so impatient that she was helping the cashiers.


There was a woman standing off to the side of the cash registers, not in the line but distinctly next to it. She was holding her purchases just like everyone in line. When the warrior woman imperiously informed her that the line started there (and pointed), she said that she was just waiting there, but she knew exactly where her "place" in line was and she wasn't cutting. This also seems to be a distinctly Israeli thing. Who remembers when she started standing there, watching the cashier? Why would she prefer to stand there rather than in her place in line, unless she is planning on fudging when she got into the line (in some imaginary fashion--since she neither informed anyone, unlike the folks at the grocery store nor put anything to signify her place in the line)? I mean, unless she was cutting she was not saving either time or energy, since she was still holding onto everything and the line was quite compact, although a bit windy. The whole thing couldn't have stretched more than fifteen feet around the innards of the store. Strange. She was probably cutting.


There was a woman of small stature--they used to be called midgets but I honestly don't remember the PC term now--going shopping with her daughter. She went to the front of the line to pay for her things. The warrior woman complained loudly to the cashier. The cashier told her to pipe down since the small woman could not wait in line for all that time. The warrior woman's impatience clearly was not directed only at people slow at opening plastic bags, but also at people with legitimate reasons for cutting the line (and doing so in a non-sneaky manner).

This line was also about thirty minutes, in total, or maybe 40, but a lot more interesting because of my conversations with the warrior woman and others in line. Everyone in line seemed to be either an older woman or a man with small children. I guess the younger women were all at home cooking and the older men were...what were the older men doing? Hmmmm... Not being friarim by waiting for 30-40 minutes in line, that's for sure.

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I love this post! It captures Israeli grocery store line waiting and maneuvering really well. I could almost feel my blood pressure rising just reading it. -MLG
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