25 Elul 5777
16 September 2017
Israel Turns Into A War Zone
If you think that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran are existential dangers facing Israelis, your humble servant can tell you something that is even move dangerous–standing at a fish counter at an Israeli supermarket on the week before Rosh Hashana trying to buy a carp.
Yes. One lousy carp.
All of you dear readers who are non-Jews are probably asking “Why a carp?”
The answer is simply that without a ground-up carp, one cannot make gefilte fish, and without gefilte fish on the table, one cannot really celebrate Rosh Hashana. At least if you are an Ashkenazi Jew.*
Let’s describe what your humble servant braved yesterday morning in order to get to the war zone at the fish counter.
My wife and I shop at Yochanof Supermarket. It is in the northern part of Ashdod inside the Star Shopping Center. It has a nice parking lot which is unusual for its spaciousness.
Well, not exactly. A large parking lot, yes. Spacious spots in which to park, no. All Israeli parking lots follow a design which presupposes that each person drives some tiny European car from the 1960s. That is no longer even remotely the case.
So we arrived at the lot at 8:45 am, 15 minutes before opening. There was already a traffic jam getting into the lot. Drivers were fighting for every last scrap of a parking place. People were screaming at each other; horns were blaring; several push and shove matches were going on among women over who had a right to a particular spot. Cars were parked every which way, with none of them observing the integrity of the spot.
But we eventually found a spot, or rather a space that was actually half one slot and half another.
And then it was a race to the front door.
Where people were fighting over grocery carts with those already having one (a cart rents for 5 shekels) crowding, pushing, and bumping into each other with the carts–each one determined to be the first in the door.
Finally, the door opened and crush was on. My wife went off to buy the usual Rosh Hashana meal items like leeks, beets, all kinds of dried fruits, etc. While I ran off to the fish counter.
The way it is supposed to work is that each person is supposed to take a number and then wait patiently in line for his or her number to be called.
What a joke.
Nobody took a number, and everyone was clumped at the small counter much like they were clumped at the front door. No one was happy with anyone; everyone was sure they should have been served before the person who was just served. Your humble servant was well back in the clump but slowly fought his way to the counter.
Finally, the woman behind the counter asked me what I wanted.
And I said “a carp.”
To which she responded “Nu?” (So what?) I told her I wanted a carp. She then told me they had already run out of carp and were going back to the freezer for some more. “Check back in 15 minutes,” she said. “Walk around the store and come back in 15 minutes.”
After all of that, check back in 15 minutes? But there was obviously nothing else to do–and beside dozens of irate carp buyers were getting the same message.
So 15 minutes later, along with a hundred other folks, I returned to the fish counter to discover that they had indeed retrieved styrofoam coolers full of carp from the freezer. For some unknown reason, the woman saw me, kindly motioned me forward, and like magic, there was my glorious carp.
The woman whom I had so recently criticized turned out to be an angel.
Of course my wife had long since finished her part of the shopping, and we checked out–beaming proudly at the crowd waiting to get in.
Why were we beaming? We had survived the Carp War Zone, and we had our prize.
*The truth of course is that other fish can be used for gefilte fish–but a carp is a carp. Interestingly, some Sephardic Jews that we know have actually begun eating gefilte fish on Rosh Hashana–gefilte fish without the gel. But that’s another story.