Change, shortages and substitutions

by | Blog, March / April 2020

By Cliff Keller —

During Israel’s ongoing coronavirus lockdown, a refreshing, cooperative spirit, albeit mandated by law, seems to have caught on in the Land. Despite our new restrictions, Israelis are permitted to eat, drink, walk their dogs and take (prescription) drugs, so I walked to our local pharmacy a few days ago, a small dispensary lying within a medium-sized clinic housing a lab, nursing and immunization stations, hearing and physical therapy facilities and several doctors’ offices.

There was a guard, of sorts, at the clinic door. Though he wore a big blue mask I recognized him immediately as one of the physiotherapists who works there, sitting in a straight-backed chair about 10 paces from the entry, his legs crossed and attention focused upon a hovering iPhone.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

In my panic, I forgot the Hebrew words for pharmacy, so I said, “Pharmacy,” to which he replied, “Mah?” meaning what? But we worked it all out and he asked me next if I felt well.

How thoughtful!

I assured him I did, he waved me inside then returned to his phone and Farmville.

The waiting room and outer hall were filled with oddly behaving Israelis. Each had taken a number. Each seemed to be waiting his turn. All of us wore masks and respectfully maintained the government-mandated “social distancing” gap, which currently stands at two meters pending further consideration of  MIT research which claims viruses have recently matched the 1928 human long jump world-record by traveling 26 feet.

organic vegetables, delivered!

Organic vegetables, delivered!

But, for the last three weeks, my stroll to the pharmacy, 2 miles round trip, has been my sole excursion outside of our neighborhood. No meetings, social, religious or business… No visits with friends or neighbors… No jaunts to the shuk, shops or restaurants… Marcia has adapted to Israel’s new rules of disengagement by becoming expert at ordering essentials online. A local organic farmer periodically brings us vegetables. An American style bakery delivers bagels and “real” rye bread to our door. (Israeli rye bread tastes like…sourdough chalk.)

But, though Jerusalem seems adequately supplied with toilet tissue, Israel’s existing supply chains and technology are far from ideal. The biggest grocery chain in Israel, Shufersal (Super-Sol, Shufra-Sal, Super-sell, take your pick), has long offered online ordering and home delivery. In theory, one goes on line, selects her groceries from attractive, illustrated menus, makes provisions to pay, prearranges the delivery date and all is well.

There are quite a few rough spots in the process, however. Marcia’s understandable lack of familiarity with the metric system, for example, resulted once in our receiving enough bananas to fill a washtub and enough white onions to keep at least 10 jugglers occupied. (Keep in mind, all the product descriptions are written in website Hebrew.) But the greatest risk and primary shortcoming in Shufersal’s online ordering system arises from allowing their order fillers to make substitutions when one’s first choice is unavailable.

Some of the grocery’s most recent and artful exchanges included…

Floor wipes for hand wipes.

Baked sugary pecans for shelled walnuts.

Jelly-filled pastries for barbecued vegan kabobs?

“A man had to have filled this order,” Marcia complained. I stopped short of accusing her of sexism—we have seen quite a bit of each other, lately—and pointed out that, thus far, no one at Shufersal has substituted bubble bath for tomato paste as she once sarcastically predicted.

It’s a brave new world. Marcia and I, being good troopers, observe social distancing in our own home, when agitated, and always remember to count our blessings. This too shall pass.

There are rumors of a fourth round of elections in Israel in August. Let’s pray that, by then, COVID-19 is long gone.

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