By Esta Gordon

One day last week we walked up Jaffa Road in Jerusalem in the heart of the city and in the heat of the day. The next day we decided to take a taxi to the top of Jaffa Road and to walk down instead. This was much easier on my arches and toes. At the same time, everything that I perused in the stores that line this main strip seemed less expensive than on the uphill day. So, it’s all about the angle of the avenue as well as the type of shoes you’re wearing to navigate these unique hills in Jerusalem.

Could it be that uphill costs so much more than downhill? I don’t know. The fact is that the shopkeepers are just great and I love the way they size you up or at least try to stereotype you from the moment you walk into their emporium.

First, a sociological analysis. It seems that most of the storeowners are either originally from Iran or Russia. If you bother to ask and they feel like talking, you can hear great stories about their family histories and how they made the move from their original country to Israel.

A few blocks here and there in Jerusalem can mean the difference of hundreds of shekels on the same items. My husband maintains that you cannot overpay in Israel whether shopping for clothing, silver, or shoes, or riding in a taxi. If you’re paying more than what seems like a fair price, then that overpayment qualifies as a mitzvah, or a charitable donation.

The dollar last week was worth about 3.6 Israeli New Shekels, which is pretty good considering the volatility of the times we’re living in. But then again, when you hear a number with your New York ears you really cannot help but think first in terms of dollars.

That means when you pick up a skirt off a rack and the salesperson says “280” you quickly realize that it cannot be dollars and you are instantly hard-pressed to compute the actual value of the item you are being quoted. Luckily, most of our cell phones also feature a calculator app.

So many of the items that I saw last week were marked at about 40 Shekels. It seems that this is the number that tends to encourage people like me to purchase the item whether there is any real need for it or not.

I like shopping on Jaffa Road for a few reasons. I think the most interesting reason is that you cannot look for a store by name—because for the most part, signage is not a major component of these stores in this long strip unless of course you are Zara or American Eagle in the nearby Mamilla Mall.

If you want to go back to the store where I found a great blouse or skirt last time I were there, you have to feel the location of the store and try to tap into a sense of familiarity that you might have from the last time you visited the area.

When Larry accompanies me on these local jaunts, he says that he prefers that I spend time looking for shoes. The reason, according to him, is that there is always somewhere to sit down and relax in a shoe store as opposed to other types of stores where they may deliberately not have a place for people like him to sit down and peruse his texts and e-mails since the last stop.

Let’s jump over to the Mamilla Mall. This mall is not a place to look for bargains. In my estimation, I believe that items here are deliberately overpriced. This is essentially a tourist thoroughfare where the way in which the windows are designed is supposed to get you to stop in and deal with the urge to make a purchase.

These shops feature some really good-looking designs that have a quality feel to them even though they are so extremely inexpensive. Even if a particular item on the rack is priced at 60 Shekels or more, you are essentially paying for a nice-looking dress for about $20. I think that’s kind of crazy, but still it keeps you going back for more.

The one store I discovered about two years ago that I consider the centerpiece of these Jaffa Road visits is Zoya. It’s usually crowded and busy. The store is located on the corner of Jaffa Road and King George Street. If you are looking for a store from the same company with more dressy types of clothing there is another Zoya shop in Ge’ula, a stretch of road here in Jerusalem that features a completely different shopping dynamic.

The fact is that because of the war in Gaza and the intermittent shelling of parts of the country, including Tel Aviv the other day, tourism is down and the stores feel it. So, visiting these shops is not just about picking up some nice things to wear and bring home, but it’s also a mitzvah to support the shopkeepers who are living in Eretz Yisrael and giving jobs to locals.

I didn’t make it to Tel Aviv this time since, after our group left last Monday, we only had two and a half days to ourselves with one of those days being the observance of my mother’s first yahrzeit.

Esta Gordon at Eretz HaChaim observing her mother’s yahrzeit

My mom passed away last year on Pesach Sheni and because this is a leap year, we observed her yahrzeit twelve months after her passing on the first day of Pesach and then with a visit to the cemetery last week.

We were met there by our nieces and nephews and their children. It was already dark out, and one of the young men brought spotlights so that the area was brightly illuminated and we were able to recite Tehillim and reminisce about my mother’s life from her surviving the Holocaust at the age of nine until her passing a year ago.

It was the crowning achievement of our one-week visit to Israel. It was important and meaningful, and for that one evening and day, a long way from Jaffa Road.


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