Supermarket shopping in Israel: a celebration of In-gathering

I tend to do a large supermarket shopping about once a week on my way home from my office in the Tel Aviv area. Yesterday, I stopped at the supermarket to restock the refrigerator after eight days of Sukkot and Simchat Torah that we finished celebrating on Monday.

At the supermarket, I was surprised to find that the meat counter was rather empty. Although my shopping list (prepared by my lovely wife) listed chicken breast, no chicken breast was available.

Making my way to the dairy counter, I requested two different types of cheese. Here too, both of the types were unavailable.

In the refrigerated section, I didn’t find any bags of 3% milk. I even though of paying more for a carton instead of a bag, but no cartons of 3% were available either. There was only 1% milk, which my children probably wouldn’t approve of in their breakfast cereal.

My first reaction was of shock. “How could the supermarket be so understocked? What kind of third-world country is this?”

After a few minutes of  shopping and checking the rest of the items off of my shopping list, I realized that the supply problem was most probably the result of the long holiday weekend. It is likely that many of the food factories and warehouses were closed for at least 3 of the previous 4 days because of the holidays.

The fact that I was surprised that I couldn’t check off every item on my shopping list made me appreciate that 99% of my supermarket visits end in me bringing home every item that my household needs. It is rare that I come home without completing my list.

Such abundance of food was not always available. There were times in the 1950’s when Israeli food was rationed and each household was entitled to a limited amount of bare necessities. Who isn’t familiar with Mark Twain’s description of the Holy Land as a barren wasteland. We’ve come a long way since then. Israel is now an agricultural superpower. A variety of fruits, vegetables, wines, beers, prepared food, varieties of meats and cheeses, domestic and imported, are all readily available on a regular basis.

Israelis of all sizes and flavors shopping for vegetables. Photo Credit: Avraham Hermon

The Sukkot holiday which we just celebrated is also called the Festival of In-gathering (Exodus 23:16.) The time of year represented the harvest of grapes and the end of the agricultural year, and was a time for our ancestors to reflect on and give praise for a successful crop and pray for rain to prepare for the forthcoming rainy season.

Most of us Israelis are a bit removed from the agricultural society of our ancestors. Nevertheless, the message of Sukkot is to be thankful for the great abundance that we have and recognize the provider of our sustenance. And I’m not talking about the supermarket mogul Rami Levy.

One needs to travel only as far as his local supermarket and open his eyes to recognize the abundance and be thankful for the In-gathering which we are witnessing in Israel of today.


About the Author
Husband, Father of 7, marathoner, unicyclist, patent attorney, home-brewer, scribe, photographer, ex-pat American, Israeli settling the land, attempted creative thinker and entrepreneur