Sunday, April 22, 2012
The kindness of strangers
The Gefilte Fish aisle at Rami Levy's
The other day I took the baby to a supermarket in a neighboring town. We'd never been there before. In fact, we'd been there the day before, with all three kids, and my daughter remembered as we were about to park that she wanted to go home and put on her tap shoes. She could not go on. Plus, even if she had agreed to go into the supermarket, her recent string of unpredictable lash outs make her a wild card in public places. I opted to cut my losses and head home.
So late morning the next day I take Stringbean McToothy Face to the very same supermarket, cautiously optimistic that we can get in and get out without too much disaster. You see, this is no ordinary supermarket. This is a Rami Levy supermarket in an ultra-religious city in the West Bank. But I am dressed modestly (though wearing pants which is frowned upon) and it is Wednesday (as opposed to Thursday which I know means a mad rush for sabbath prep). Turns out Wednesday is also a mad rush and I should have just turned around when I saw the parking lot. But then I'd have to admit defeat twice in two days which I just couldn't swallow. So I park and we charge ahead, the baby as my shield.
The allure of Rami Levy is that it's cheap. I'd say 30% cheaper than other supermarket chains, especially the one in our town, Mister Zol, which means Mr. Cheap. In fact it's Mr. Expensive, even more expensive than "Half Free Warehouse" in Beit Shemesh which should be called "Twice as Much Warehouse". Who comes up with these names?
We hustle our way through a sea of black hats and modestly dressed religious men and women and after a little less than an hour we are ready to check out. This is when I start to sweat. There are lines three and four people deep at every check-out and these folks are not here to pick up a carton of milk and a loaf of bread. These carts are meant to feed a family of ten for a week so they are spilling over into the aisles. That's when my copilot decides he'd had enough. Now I am caught with a screaming baby in a half hour check out line with a full cart of food. I am just about to abandon my groceries when a lovely Yemenite looking guy in front of me with a knitted kippah asks if I could use some help. He suggests I take the baby to my car and feed him and he would watch my cart and call me when it was time to come back. So without thinking twice we exchange phone numbers and I leave my cart including my diaper bag and my wallet, grab my keys and take Starving McChompers to the car for some lunch.
Twenty minutes later I come back and my friend is nearly finished checking out. Perfect timing. I strap the baby back on, thank him profusely and load up my groceries. Seeing that I am encumbered with a giant baby on my chest, the checker (religious Jew of Middle Eastern descent) calls over a bagger (likely Muslim Arab) to help me get on my way. They exchange a few friendly words in Arabic and have a few laughs (they're probably laughing at me come to think of it) and I'm left to wonder why it is again that we all hate each other? I mean if the Yemenite religious Zionist Jew can help out the American Ashkenazi Progressive New Immigrant Jew while the religious Moroccan Jew makes jokes with the Palestinian, then can't we just all be friends?*
* I realize just the fact that Arabs don't shop here though they work here points to a wider, more systemic segregation issue. But I can't ignore these brief, friendly interactions. They're happening all around me. Everyday.