z1By Larry Gordon

When it finally became a little cool and rainy at night in Israel–this was before last week–the choices were to stay at home or to go out and join the maddening crowds at one of the always very busy indoor malls in Jerusalem. There is an excitement, or perhaps it is a rhythm, to shopping in Israel. The malls are filled with energetic young people who seem to love to shop almost endlessly.

And the mix of people rushing their way through the malls, shops, and stores is truly something to behold. There is a theory that peace between Arabs and Jews can be achieved on an economic plain more expeditiously than in any of the ways that have been tried and have apparently not succeeded. Somehow, even though people find it impossible to respect or even hear one another, when it comes to the international language–that is, money–everyone’s ears perk up and they are capable of paying attention.

Not to wander too far off topic, but the United States has promised the Palestinians a $4 billion aid package if they successfully navigate their way through the peace negotiation process with Israel. The Palestinian leadership has blown through many billions of dollars over the last few decades in exchange for not much, so the international community is encountering some difficulty in getting them to cooperate this time around. But they are trying.

I raise this issue because of the way Arab women, and sometimes couples, saunter around the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem on most nights. Granted, the overwhelming number of people there are Israelis, plus there are a good number of visitors like us, but despite the shopping frenzy and the toting of multiple tightly packed shopping bags, there is a peacefulness and a nonchalance in the mall as another international and quite understandable language is being spoken–that is, shopping.

I will go out on a limb here and say that stores throughout the world can be put into two categories. The good stores are the ones where there is a place to sit down. The not-so-good ones are the shops that do not provide a place to sit and relax while your wife or children are working their way through the racks or shelves.

I read some shocking news a few days ago. That is that Loehmann’s has filed for bankruptcy and might be closing many if not all their stores. That’s too bad but, as one blogger wrote upon learning of the sad news, “If we survived the closing of Daffy’s we will most likely survive this closing too.”

The good news is that in Israel–as far as I know–there was never a Daffy’s nor is there currently a Loehmann’s. I do remember the Loehmann’s store on Duryea Place off Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. This was the old Loehmann’s, long before they dabbled in some men’s clothing on their racks. I believe those were added just to distract some of the male shoppers and give them something to do to pass the time while the women zealously did their thing.

I do recall something else about the Duryea Place Loehmann’s, and that is the benches they had in front of the store so that people–almost exclusively men–could sit while their companions did their shopping. I recall a sad collection of men sitting there, either staring off into a distant nothingness or sitting with their shoulders sloped and heads hanging somewhere between semi-conscious wakefulness and a midday nap. I never wanted to be in that picture, and I don’t think I am. I just don’t want to have to stand all the time.

Anyway, there is no place to nap or even daydream in Israel’s malls, at least not the ones that I have visited in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. (They have these comfortable-looking recliners that give you an electronic message for a few shekels but that’s an attraction, not a place to just sit.) The mall–especially on Saturday night–is a happening place, where people gather by the thousands. There are differences between malls here in New York and over there in Israel. First and foremost, there are metal detectors that you have to pass through in Israel in order to gain entry. How is someone supposed to try on a sport coat or sweater with a pistol bulging from their belt? “Here, can you hold this please?”

Passing through metal detectors, especially in Israel, has become a routine matter these days. Apparently, there are different types of detectors with varying levels of sensitivity to metal objects. For example, at both JFK and Ben Gurion Airport, the metal detectors are extremely sensitive to all kinds of metal objects. And that’s aside from the need to remove your shoes and jacket, unpack your laptop computers, and sometimes even remove your belt. Not to mention your earrings, bracelets, necklaces, watches, hairpins, and so on.

At the Malcha Mall these days, they are just looking for guns and explosives, so maybe that allows you to keep your belt on. I have found that the situation when you enter through the detectors at the Kotel is similar to that at the mall. It is like the machine has been calibrated to know what it’s looking for.

So once you traverse the line to enter the mall, you are free to shop until either you drop or you cannot manage to carry any more bags. And the checkout lines are long and the cashiers are always busy. I know you thought that people in Israel do not have that much discretionary income. A study released this week said that 1.7 million Israelis are living below the poverty line. But I suppose these were not the people we saw at the mall.

Okay, so let’s look inside some of the stores and see whether there is a place to sit and relax, or not, or just shop. Zara is a European-based clothing store with shops all over the globe, including here in New York. The store in the Malcha Mall is a hub of activity, with young girls and women in high swirly turbans and sheitels moving in and out of the dressing room at breakneck speed. It looks like someone pressed fast-forward and everyone is just scurrying around chock full of shopping energy.

There’s no place to sit in Zara unless you are buying a pair of women’s shoes and, believe me, if you are not you don’t want to be sitting there. This year, I discovered a bench outside the store. I had my iPad with me, and had pretty good Wi-Fi service as well, so I did not mind sitting there for a while. Just a few feet away from where I was sitting, there was a Café Hillel concession with delicious coffee and cappuccino, as well as an assortment of doughnuts specially decorated to celebrate the Chanukah season.

Then there is a big H&M. No place to really sit there, either.

Renuar is a store with a fairly decent men’s department. I bought two sweaters (I don’t carry a gun, just some credit cards) and my sons bought outerwear jackets. It was supposed to get cool and rainy outside for our last few days in Israel and these purchases would allow us to better defend ourselves against the elements.

Let me say something about the Castro store in the Mamilla Mall. I think this is my favorite place to shop; they have nothing for me but two very comfortable deep worn leather chairs in their shoe department, where I have rarely seen anyone buying shoes. You can sit there, read your computer screen, or watch the world go by–it’s your choice.

Then there is the famous pedestrian mall on Ben Yehuda Street. It’s a lovely hilly cobblestoned street where you can take in an exciting part of Israel. There are street musicians, peddlers, people selling their home-produced art, and a table at which several Chabad men are busy putting tefillin on people passing through.

There are some lovely jewelry stores down here, another Castro shop, several fine gift shops, and just a place to spend money or do your part to support the thriving Jerusalem economy.

All in all, it’s a totally satisfying and enjoyable experience. Whether you are shopping in Tel Aviv, in the Malcha Mall, or on Jaffa Road, the way I see it, we are supporting the people of Israel. And that’s the great part of all this. A couple of more chairs or a couch in the right stores and this would just be perfect. v

Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at editor@5tjt.com.

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