It’s late November and the radio is buzzing with ads for “blue November” sales. Um, what’s blue November? Or blue Friday? Or…others are calling it “November Yisraeli.” What gives?
Let me take a step back. Among the minor frustrations I have about life in Israel since making aliyah are its many attempts to ape American culture, including America’s pre-Christmas shopping season. For the last few years, I’ve smirked and winced my way through November as retailers hyped their “Black Friday” and “Black November sales.”
Retail therapy never did much for me in the US. Here, even less. But this year, something is different.
We realize that the economy is hurting. Estimates are that Israel is losing about 1B NIS a day due to the war. Businesses have closed. Banks are offering special loans or mortgage deferrals for people whose financial lives were wrecked by the war against Hamas. People are flocking to neighborhood produce markets organized by farmers from Otef Azah who are selling directly to the public. For the first time ever, I’m feeling kind of patriotic about consumerism if it helps other Israelis stay afloat.
But Blue November? That’s a bit much, no? Not really. If you live in Israel, you understand why. If not, here are the cultural “liner notes.”
In the days following October 7, news announcers on radio and TV grappled with some way to refer to the butchery we experienced. Within days, everyone was calling it “השבת השחורה” – the Shabbat of Darkness. The expression stuck, a kind of shorthand to reference our shared pain and revulsion. It resonates deeply and is used often in Israeli media.
Then came November. A few businesses began running the usual ad campaigns that they had prepared months ago, before life turned upside down. While Machsanei Heshmal and Shekem Electric both advertise Black Friday sales on the radio to drum up business, others were put off or simply worried that shoppers might associate their merchandising campaign with the mournful language of Oct 7. Businesses like Halperin Optical and haMashbir are both advertising Blue Friday sales, and other businesses have similar adaptations.
It’s a double message. A push back against the painful emotional fallout of Hamas’ attacks, along with a not-so-subtle call to fuel the economy by resuming normal purchases. At times it’s absurd. Like “leasing tif’uli…vehicle solutions for your business even in troubled times.” Or radio ads by the “Gold for Cash” guy Azriel, who buys gold and silver from consumers. His radio spot closes with “yachad nenatzeach.” The patriotic nods are appreciated, a bit odd, and honestly a sign of the times.
Leaving all that aside, the Blue Friday ads reflect just how profoundly Israeli life has been changed, brutally reshaped by the blows we’ve absorbed. And yes, the marketing playbook of Black Friday was also destroyed on the Shabbat haShechorah. So, what does it mean when ordinary folks spontaneously rewrite a part of our modern Hebrew lexicon?
For me, it is just one more sign of the immense gravity of this moment. October 7 pressed a “reset” button that demands the rethinking of assumptions we’ve made in every sphere of life including security, politics and hopefully our culture as well. We should reexamine everything including who we are as a nation, how we speak to each other across party lines, and even how we market jeans in early winter…or whether we do so at all. This is the New Zionism I’m hoping takes root. We need a true Blue November…as opposed to merely a black Friday.