When I came to Israel some 47 years ago, it was a very isolated and insular country. There was not even a transit lounge at the airport, as there was nowhere to go from here — except back to where you came from. 99% of what you could buy in the shops was locally made and usually of low quality. That went for both foodstuffs and hard goods like clothing and appliances. Imports were almost unheard of and when available, outrageously expensive. Protective customs duties kept those prices up and beyond the reach of the average wage earner.
Today, things are totally different, by 180 degrees! At Ben Gurion Airport, the list of destinations for outgoing flights is lengthy and incredibly diverse! Places that were only heard of in dark Russian novels are now accessible: Dnepropetrovsk and Baku, Belgrade and St. Petersburg, Addis Ababa and Seoul, Tashkent, Cairo and Amman! The list goes on and on, and every name on the board gives me joy, just knowing that if I want to, I can go there!
Locally made clothing is mostly a thing of the past, and the availability and variety of clothing in the shops is staggering. Prices may be higher than in London or New York or Berlin, but the goods are there on the shelves. Made in Israel televisions are a thing of the past, as are most other appliances (though locally made fridges are still the best for our outrageous climate!).
But the aspect of modern, international Israel that I enjoy the most is going to the supermarkets and even the corner grocery stores, and browsing the shelves. Sardines from Morocco, breakfast cereals from Latvia, corn flakes from the Czech republic, frozen fish from the Philippines — it’s a United Nations of food! Goodies from places we could only dream about, or didn’t even know existed.
Just last week I found the latest wonder. A candy bar that is designed to look similar to a well-known chewy chocolate covered item, but costing one-third the price. Tastes slightly different, but not bad at all. And this little delight, sitting in the rack next to the chewing gum from China, comes from, of all placed … Baku, Azerbaijan!
I know my joy in these things is probably silly, and not really important, but it makes me feel good and allows me to feel like part of the whole world. “Buy Blue and White” as the slogan goes here, is all well and good, but it isn’t an excuse for price gouging. If I can get it for 33% of the price of the name brand, why not? If the importers of the name brand were willing to settle for a reasonable profit, and not want to make a 300% return on their expenses, then I’d be happy. But since they aren’t, and neither are the local manufacturers of similar items, then I’ll keep on buying Azerbaijan chocolate and Moroccan sardines. And I’ll enjoy every bite.