One of the things that I missed the most when I moved to Israel, seven years' ago, was the whole Western 'shopping experience' thing. It's strange, because when I lived in London, I hated shopping; I hated malls; I hated all the time wasted, and all the queues stood in; and all the stress from trying to pick 'the right' top, or the 'the right' bag. Part of the problem was that it wasn't enough just for me to like whatever I was buying; it also had to make a splash with my girlfriends, and get some admiring comments from the neighbours and school moms.
Nevertheless, I found myself shopping, in one way or another, at least once a week. So when we moved to a city with no shopping mall (one opened a couple of months after we arrived…), initially, it was a massive shock to the system. I found I was missing the noise and stress and 'buzz' of being around busy, hectic shopping areas so much, that for the first few months I lived here, I had to go to Tel Aviv at least once a week, just to breathe it all in again.
Ahhh. To speed-walk on a pavement, together with four thousand other people, with no-one smiling at anyone else…Ahhh. To see a couple of drunken bums trying to sleep out on a bit of cardboard box…. Ahhh. To smell the pungent aroma of stairwells and enclosed areas that had been used as a make-do toilet…
My need for big city excitement slowly diminished over the years. I haven't been to Tel Aviv for ages and ages, and I'm not even missing it. But every now and then, I still have a 'shopping' fit, where I just need to be somewhere completely and horribly materialistic for an hour or two.
Usually when that urge hits, I go for a walk in downtown Jerusalem, along the newly-renovated Jaffa Street and King George intersection. As shopping experiences in big cities go, it's fairly tame. There aren't a lot of gaudy advertising posters; there isn't a lot of thumping music with explicit lyrics about failed relationships; there's much less cleavage on display than in most places; much fewer examples of tight leggings, shorts and who knows what else walking around.
I go to my art supplies shop; I go to the Machane Yehuda outdoor market, and buy a juice and a healthy spelt bagel; I browse to see what variation of a long sleeved top, or long peasant skirt, my favorite store is stocking - and then I usually come home.
You can normally walk for hours in Jerusalem, comfortably, pretty much any time of the year. But this week, my planned 'window shopping' day out occurred bang in the middle of the wettest, windiest week I've ever seen in Israel.
Every day, my kids were coming home with reports that Lake Kinneret had gone up another 10 feet, or something ridiculous. But I'm from London, the land of soaking wet outdoor experiences; I wasn't going to let a bit of rain spoil my plans to have a nice day out. So I drove into Jerusalem, and I couldn't believe how many 'rivers' had sprung up everywhere, or how many 'ponds' had suddenly appeared. Trees were falling down all over the place, from the combo of super-sodden ground and strong winds.
It was still absolutely pouring; it was still blowing a gale. There was something about that disgusting, miserable, horrible weather that snapped me back into 'London' mode and on the spur of the moment, I decided to skip the outdoor shopping experience that I usually really like, and to go to the big Jerusalem mall instead.
I hadn't been there in a couple of years, and I was curious to see what, if anything, had changed. I found a parking spot, I walked in, and for the first 10 seconds, I quite enjoyed myself: it was warm; it was dry; I wasn't being pelted by hail, or attacked by horizontal rain. Then I clocked a massive poster of a woman wearing very few clothes, in a lingerie store, and my eyes nearly fell out of my head.
Wow. Maybe I'm just more sensitive to it now, or maybe the advertising is getting more and more 'out there' - but I was shocked. I made a mental note to tell my husband never to come anywhere near this place.
But me? I'm a girl. I was ok.
I went to H&M, which was another place I used to 'miss' from the old country, and as I walked in, there was a free magazine which the store had put together, to showcase their clothes.
I'm an avid reader; it was in English; I used to read stuff like that ALL THE TIME when I lived in London. So without thinking, I picked it up. For the second time in five minutes, I was completely shocked: there on the back page was some famous bloke, completely covered in tattoos and just wearing his underwear.
In the UK, maybe I wouldn't have blinked twice. But in Israel? I felt like my soul had just been seriously spiritually singed. I put the magazine down, and went to get a juice from the (very kosher) juice bar - and there on a big screen TV directly opposite to where I was standing, was a music video, where two people with no clothes on were getting it on.
For the third time in seven minutes, I was completely shocked and grossed out. I finished my very expensive juice, and then I meandered back to the car park. With it's twelve-foot tall lingerie adverts, that mall was definitely no place for my Torah-learning, payot-wearing, husband to be; but with all the immodest advertising, all the horrible secular music thumping out of every shop, all the explicit music videos popping up on the widescreen TVs that were absolutely everywhere - it was no place for any aspiring religious Jew to be, period.
I came away from that mall hoping that I'll never go back to it. I came away with a very firm desire that my kids should stay a million miles away from that mall, and every place like it, at least until they are married with grandchildren. I came away so spiritually singed from that seven minute exposure to the Western shopping experience that I used to crave so much, that for hours afterwards, I still felt quite 'yucky'.
I couldn't wait to come home, to my 'safe' village, where there isn't an advert in sight, unless it's for Torah classes or trips to the Ukraine, or fish specials in the local supermarket.
It's taken seven years, but I think my addiction to the 'buzz' may just have ended. The next time I need a new skirt, or a set of dishes, I'm going to go somewhere where the most shocking thing is the prices being charged…
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Check out Rivka Levy's new book The Happy Workshop based on the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush